Region's values, lifestyle key for drawing start-ups

Southern Oregon should focus on attracting entrepreneurial newcomers who share the region's values and outdoors lifestyle in coming years.

That's the perspective of Randy Harrington, who will appear at the annual Southern Oregon Business Conference Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Red Lion Hotel in Medford.

The Eugene resident is chief executive of consulting firm Extreme Arts & Sciences, teaches classes for MBA students at the University of Mississippi and authored "Evolutionaries," a book describing how leadership can change organizations, industries and communities.

Harrington said it's important to be proactive and intentional in pursuing an economic development path for a region.

"I'm impressed because people down there are trying to decide what it means to live and work in Southern Oregon," he said, referring to economic development and trade groups. "You're going to see leaders emerge. Not in a traditional political sense, but people who are able to create catalytic movement."

Once the economic momentum emerges it provides fodder for touting the region.

"You will know you are there when you start advertising you're there: 'Hey, we're Southern Oregon and we've got it going on,' " Harrington said. "I see it that way with wine and speciality food industries. The wine industry is still young, but the wine appellations there are being talked about nationally. They are competitive or better than Napa (Valley) in some of the varietals they are producing. It's interesting people in Southern Oregon don't see it as well as people living outside the region."

While many communities across the country are waiting for a large manufacturer to boost local employment, Harrington said communities such as Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland have done something else.

"Most everybody is waiting for the big corporate life preserver of some sort and fewer and fewer are showing up," he said.

He noted Southern Oregon has developed a culture of small business innovation, encouraged by e-commerce initiatives by the Legislature a decade ago and, more recently, a business incubator in downtown Medford.

"That's not accidental any more," he said. "We love and treasure our start-ups, We know for every 50 start-ups in 2012, eight will remain in 2013. But we're going to do everything to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship because it's tightly tied to the values of what it means to live in Southern Oregon. There's been a reality check in Medford and specialty areas are being developed."

The way to attract the right kind of start-up, he said, is by finding entrepreneurs who realize it would cost far more money to build that kind of company in Marin County, Calif., than in Southern Oregon, a place where they could also raise a family.

"My game plan for Southern Oregon would be to attract super-smart people here and deliver talented, ethically strong people who can learn and work affordably and begin to build a business that way."

The cost differential for a start-up looking for $1 million to $2 million in sales, in general, would be the difference in paying $80,000 to $90,000 for analytical researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area and $30,000 to $50,000 in Southern Oregon. A good family wage, he said, "but not boat-buying wages."

Harrington sees cluster opportunities, such as extreme sport custom manufacturing or high-end culinary production from local agriculture.

"As those clusters emerge," he said. "They become magnets, just as a Nissan location would be for another automobile firm. That's where leadership is so important. Subtle, yet significant things can be done to attract entrepreneurs."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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