Portland as Digital Timber Town

I hosted a session at WhereCampPDX this weekend on Portland, technology, and economic development.

I started things off by suggesting a theory: that Portland’s history as a timber town has influenced our approach to economic development, in ways that are no longer useful as we switch from a physical commodity-driven economy to a digital one. I also talked a little about the tendency for investment and customers to be outside of Portland, causing money to flow into and out of the economy, but not move around inside Portland’s tech economy (we do spend our money on other kinds of local goods and services).

Participants helped build a list of things we know about working in timber vs. working in tech, then we talked through what the effects of these things are, and what we might do about it. Here’s what we came up with:

Timber (atoms)
* semi-limited renewable resource
* fungible/tradeable commodity
* global market – externally facing
* hard to obsolete
* no 2.0? (low innovation rate)
* high startup cost/time (have to grow the trees)
* usually organized labor
* doesn’t travel (you can’t take your trees elsewhere)

Tech (bits)
* infinite
* maybe a commodity
* maybe specialized
* global market
* can be an internally or externally facing market
* rapidly changing
* low startup cost
* not much labor organization
* travels well

Side effects (what happens in the local economy as a result?)
* Regional cash flow problems
* Can we grow?
* Needs replanting
* Needs the right culture
* Tech moves internally (inside the local community)
* Cash doesn’t
* We build relationships around the tech-sharing
* But not around the cash transactions
* Business and tech people don’t speak the same language
* Risk aversion: tech is easy to share, cash is hard
* Differences in barriers to entry (are these being addressed?)

Lessons/goals (what do we want to do about this?)
* need structures for investing $$$ in community tech
* business mentoring (another camp?)
* companies should invest in the community’s tech skills
* keep projects open
* share knowledge locally
* more exposure to local products and marketplace
* local hiring marketplace
* expose businesses to local tech assets
* more directories
* programmer fund: let’s pool money to invest
* fund projects based on community value
* bring management from companies into the practitioner community (take your boss to the user group meeting)

Comments are closed.