Notes from the Civic Engagement Meetup

The meeting was two weeks ago, and while we had a small group I think it went well. I’ve been trying to organize these notes into some sort of coherent narrative, but it’s not working, so I’m just posting what I have in semi-raw form. I edited down a lot of the discussion to focus on what I thought were the key points. Much thanks to Addie for taking the notes I’ve edited and annotated below.

Here’s what I wrote down for follow-up from our discussion:

  • We need metrics (still)
  • Figure out economic impact of open source, community meetups
  • How can we build community structures that can help represent us?
  • PDC is experienced in real estate development, so… how do we make what we need have a structure they can work with?

Attendees included Skip Newberry (City of Portland), Gerald Baugh (PDC), open source developers, startup employees, Carolynn Duncan (Portland Ten), other interested community members.

Skip and Gerald started off by talking about the background of the software cluster development project. Gerald also described the overall history of the PDC, how as an urban renewal agency their activities primarily involve real estate development and recruitment of tenants. Software was chosen as one of the economic development clusters because it’s a measurable strength for the area–we have a higher percentage of people involved in this, relative to the country as a whole. It’s not an area where the PDC has any particular expertise or knowledge, though, which is why they’re doing these survey and outreach activities.

After this we went around and everyone introduced themselves, and we started discussing how the PDC’s plans and strengths connect (or don’t) with how software development works.

Software – CAN be decentralized, unlike manufacturing (so that gives us a different set of development considerations).
The community is so loosely distributed into “pods” that you can’t say you’ve covered the entire software community by engaging a single pod (say, SAO or Open Source).

We see a lot of software companies in the area that are tiny with no desire to grow. The gap between tiny software companies and a giant building (Park Avenue West) that needs tenants to commit to it is huge.
Carolyn reported an issue she sees when working with Portland Ten’s clients, of significant underemployment, with entrepreneurs and employees both not recognizing the severity (if you can’t feed yourself, how is your business viable?)

We talked about further data collection, the need to get more information on revenue levels and sources, how well businesses and developers are doing. Also, further data collection needs to recognize that people may have a day job and a side project, and both parts need to be studied.

Gerald discussed how the PDC’s development activities are affected by the economy, that if business revenue takes a nose dive, they’re out of business. There is a percentage of city land they can designate as urban renewal areas, and apply certain kinds of development assistance to. They’re also primarily involved in gap funding and contract negotiation, rather than grants or direct investment.

Gap funding: a property developer has 80% of the funding for a building, the PDC loans the rest
Contract negotiation: a company like ShopIgniter gets funding, starts hiring, needs help with the lease agreement to move out of one space and into a larger one

PDC is trying to figure out how they can move from loans to providing seed funding in exchange for equity. (More about that here)

We have an open question: what kind of tech businesses does Portland want to develop? Small stable companies (“lifestyle”) don’t have the same needs as growth businesses. There is a huge component of the software industry that involves projects that have nothing to do with making money. Is there a role for the PDC in helping to facilitate tech innovation that is not tied to revenue?

Paraphrasing Gerald:
Where government is most effective is as a convener. Need to know what they’re convening and what the outcomes will be.
When we’re doing an action, we have to be able to report on an action with a measurable result.
That’s why job creation is such an easy sell.
“The better that that gets defined, the more we can help you as a convener.”

Other possible government roles:
Portland is talking to other cities with similar software needs about the possibility of collaborating on open source projects, co-funding things multiple cities will use
The city also wants to be a customer for open source in general
Using local software in demo projects, such as with the police force, helps demonstrate the value of our products to local business
The local ecosystem needs both technical resources and business resources. We need to figure out how to measure the economic value of both.

Possible metrics:
* funding & investment in companies
* revenues
* businesses started
* job leads through user groups and community events
* software projects started (github forks?)
* Travel Portland calculates economic impact of conferences with out-of-town attendees

Amy – recollection from 10 years ago, we didn’t have the same community that we have now… we have more information disseminating in the community now.
Reid – it’s really easy to measure change, but when you’re trying to measure impact of something that was built over many years, you either suddenly take it away and see what crashes or figure out some better way to measure it.

Gerald encourages us:
Be advocates for software
When the govt or state does something that has a direct impact on software – show up!

But: There is no management layer between a lot of software people and executives in a lot of businesses here – and the management layer would often do the advocacy
We may not want a trade organization representing us, but having representatives fills a valuable role.

There’s a limited time period for this economic plan, and we’re already on year 2 of 5. Whatever we decide to do needs to happen while this window is open.

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