How Do We Feel About Tech Business in Portland?

At the PDC meeting on Wednesday, I asked for access to the raw survey data they collected. I’m primarily interested in doing qualitative analysis of the free-form responses. Below is my breakdown of answers to the first question (How do you feel about your business’ relationship to the city of Portland?).

To aid the tl;dr crowd, I put my summary and comments at the top, and the breakdown of what sorts of things people said below.

Thoughts on the responses:

The least satisfied respondents were often unhappy with Portland’s cultural direction, citing bikes and green initiatives as signs of misplaced energy. They also complained about the local work ethic, potential employees being interested in quality of life (or work/life balance) over working longer hours with the promise of eventual bigger profits, and the perception of this outside Portland affecting their ability to do business. Tax structures and government disinterest or antipathy were also cited frequently.

There was a middle group with concerns about taxes, government participation, and local infrastructure, that stated that they were outweighed or mitigated by other factors, such as the social and technological climate, physical environment, and quality of life. There also seem to be startups that struggle with tax/fee issues relative to their small size and level of profitability.

Finally, the most satisfied responses came from people who like the local culture, social support, community organizations, and were finding suitable employees or job opportunities. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, but I would say this group feels they fit well into the local industry landscape as well as the general cultural landscape, and are able to find the resources they need, or haven’t run into major challenges yet.

This raises a bunch of questions about where to focus energy:
Is it useful to address the cultural mismatch some respondents described?
Is it okay if a good cultural fit causes companies to overlook issues with funding, government support, or tax structures?
Does our cultural direction have to prevent businesses from growing? Is it true that we don’t value that growth?
How should the lack of faith in government be addressed (the most positive comments on this tended to say they experienced a lack of interference, not active support)?

This is in addition to the questions we’ve already been asking about access to funding, and gaps between the technical sphere and business resources.

Positives:

Local environment/geography:
* Good social environment (friendly, supportive, motivational, creative, passionate, sharing)
* Low cost of living, affordable housing
* Quality of life
* Local values (progressive, honest, ethical, focused on sustainability, DIY)
* Physical environment (beautiful city, good weather, clean)
* Proximity to industry in other nearby regions (without the cost of living there)
* Good civic resources: schools, neighborhoods
* Tech-savvy population in general (also young, “edgy”)

Government involvement:
* Can work without government interference (not over-regulated, rules easy to figure out)
* Efficient permit processes
* Good government sector opportunities

Infrastructure:
* Good airport, direct flights to important business destinations
* Good infrastructure
* Access to free wifi around town
* Public transportation

Positives for employers:
* Can find qualified employees
* Access to talent brought here for other reasons (quality of life, local colleges)
* Supportive business community

Positives for employees:
* Good colleagues
* Educational opportunities
* Job opportunities

Organizations:
* Community groups (self-organizing, creating connections, good developer community)
* Business organizations (SAO, OEN, PBJ)
* PSU faculty (experienced, well-known)

Technological:
* Lack of competition in respondent’s niche
* Good technical support, ability to find qualified subcontractors
* Innovative technology being produced
* Open source expertise

Negatives:

For employers:
* Difficult to find employees with desired work ethic
* Talent pool is shallow, have to search elsewhere
* Cost of labor still too high for some clients or investors

For employees:
* Better job opportunities elsewhere
* Low wages/compensation relative to other places
* Can’t find consistent work

For businesses in general:
* Can’t find people working in similar tech niche to collaborate with (video games, enterprise software)
* Lack of social/psychological support, fragmented business community, established players with clout don’t help startups
* Lack of manufacturing capacity, vendors going out of business
* Can’t find local customers/clients
* Anti-business attitudes (“profits are evil”)
* Local market is too small
* Local customers don’t value cost of labor
* Lacking experienced industry leadership

Funding:
* Business/funding resources don’t understand the technology
* Hard to raise money

Government issues:
* Lack of trust in government
* General city government policies, lack of attention to downtown problems, excessive interest in bikes, greenery
* Bad tax situation (too high/restrictive, not taxing startups appropriate to profit levels)
* Lack of government support for startups and other software businesses
* City doesn’t support contract bids from smaller businesses or independent contractors
* Minimal incentives for software businesses, no tax credits for R&D
* Local government not doing enough to promote industry outside the state
* Local government not countering negative outside opinions of local industry
* Government seems disinterested in helping build software industry, waiting for industry to build itself
* No government/tax support for small business (pay the same costs as larger companies)
* Political process restricted to those who are members of the right organizations, others lack access

Infrastructure:
* Not enough high-speed internet available
* Public transportation not good enough for commuting from outer neighborhoods to close-in
* Airport connections not as good as major airline hubs

Support organizations:
* Can’t find organizations supporting desired tech niche
* Business organizations are too expensive to join

Education:
* Lack of top-tier/world-class higher educational institution
* Lack of graduate-level education in engineering
* Problems with K12 school system, school quality, training in math and science

General attitude/environment problems:
* Large companies leaving
* Success is accidental, not repeatable
* Unstable/unpredictable business environment
* Lack of support for new/innovative ideas
* Portland isn’t on the map from a global POV
* Too cautious, not enough risk-taking
* Focus on quality of life hides other deficits, or QOL efforts take away from bizdev efforts
* Economic problems hurt all businesses, hurting customer/client pool
* Divide between open source and business
* Lack of support for big businesses, hard for businesses to grow

One response to “How Do We Feel About Tech Business in Portland?

  1. Pingback: What Needs Aren’t Being Met? « Dyepot, Teapot