Southern Oregon: Home of Big Tech?

    southern-or-big-techWhen you think Southern Oregon, what comes to mind? Technology? No? I didn’t think so. A Google search and visits to popular websites commonly turn up words like, “beautiful, vineyards, Crater Lake, fishing, and hiking” and a survey of my personal Facebook friends resulted in, “coffee, Lithia, timber, medical field and winery.” This is all good and fine, after all, I love a good cup of coffee on my drive past the vineyards to go fish and hike at the beautiful Crater Lake (can you fish at Crater Lake?!). On the other hand, if my interests lie in seeing a bright future and booming economy in Southern Oregon, I think a different approach is desperately needed.

    “The coming decades are going to see tech companies swallow just about every other job and industry…The only way for companies to survive will be to become tech companies themselves and the only way for individuals to find jobs will be to innovate and incorporate some of the latest tech into their work.”1 This may sound a little extreme…makes me think of the movies about “tech take-overs” (Eagle Eye…I Robot, anyone?). But is it extreme? Think back. I’m in my mid-thirties. Just old enough to remember life before computers and cell phones. My grandpa had one of the first Mac computers. My dad had a MASSIVE cell phone that was attached to a large leather brief case. You guys. It was C. O. O. L. Less than ten years later, I had the most awesome pink Motorolla RAZR, which could even access the internet if I had the patience (and data) to sit around and wait for it. Now, barely ten years after that, I literally hold the world in my hand on an ever evolving, powerful little iPhone. I say all this to beg the question, do you really think technology is going to stop here? Stop now? Or is this only the beginning?

    Ok, so what does this have to do with our little part of the world—Southern Oregon? I recently discussed this with a friend who so poignantly stated that, when it comes to keeping up with the fast pace of technology, Southern Oregon is and has been “asleep at the wheel” for some time now. I wasn’t sure that I agreed with him at first. However, after some research and thought, he is most certainly right. Hopefully, we can all agree that technology is the future. Of everything. The future of education, transportation, communication, and business. I’m not arguing that this is all a good thing—simply that it IS. That said, if Southern Oregon—Medford, in particular—is going to grow and thrive in this new wave of the future, it’s going to have to change its approach.

    Endeavor Insight (a research department of the non-profit Endeavor) recently conducted surveys and interviews with 150 founders of some of the country’s fastest growing companies. The results were surprising and “[offer] basic evidence that cities should focus on factors and conditions that attract the talented, educated workers that fast-growing entrepreneurial enterprises need.”2 In simple terms, the most important factor was talent. Only 5 percent mentioned business-friendly policies and low-taxes, which is a common approach city governments will use to try to attract businesses to the area.

    The Medford Chamber of Commerce has “Four Strategic Objectives” outlined on their website, which is a great start towards attracting new business, however, they have a common feel throughout all four objectives. Statements such as, “Support education”, “Support family wage jobs and firms” and “Create workforce training opportunities focusing on ethics and values” all leave you feeling that Medford is a town of the “good ol’ days” with the “good ol’ boys” in charge. Which, as a mom, I’m thrilled to see that there are still people in leadership concerned about ethics and values. However, these types of statements as well as “Focus on tourism” and “Promote the Rogue Valley as a convention and leisure destination” are a far cry from the things technology based companies and young, start-up entrepreneurs are looking for.

    If Medford truly sought to keep up with the 21st century, it would need to place a great deal more focus on ideals that meet these businesses and entrepreneurs where they are at. City and Chamber officials, as well as the community as a whole would first need to implement, emphasize and encourage educational programs that can provide a workforce able to support the employment needs of businesses coming to the area. A second and equally attractive measure Medford could take, would be to increase and expand the electronic infrastructure in our region. Installing fiberoptics (a network cable that contains strands of glass fibers inside an insulated casing…designed for long distance, very high performance data networking and telecommunications), would be a huge selling point to fast paced, highly technological companies.

    Much of Medford’s most recent modernization efforts have been in the revitalization of Downtown Medford including a new parking structure, the beginnings of the “Commons”, the restoration of several old buildings and street improvements. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, there remains more to be done to really attract bigger, more forward thinking businesses to our area.

    Now, that said, Medford and the surrounding areas DO have a lot going for it that, when combined with a plan of action for attracting more ‘techy’ companies, would make quite an irresistible location to many businesses. The local culture, including the diversity in Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, existing area resources, and proximity to Interstate 5 are just a few of the definitive advantages Southern Oregon has to offer. Large companies and those that work for them would do well to consider expansion into a smaller city like Medford, especially if they were to consider the huge advantages and the massive savings to be had in the real estate market. Many, if not most large technology companies have their headquarters in large metropolises, including Amazon and Microsoft (Seattle); and Facebook and Apple (San Jose). The median home value in Seattle is $624,700.3 Last year, San Jose became the first US city to have a median home price of over $1 million.4 Companies are having to pay employees skyrocketing wages just so they can afford to live in the area they work. Imagine if their employees could find beautiful, affordable housing… Medford’s median home value? $244,100.5 And I don’t know about you, but I would chose smallish Medford with our lakes, rivers, ski slopes, generally mild weather and friendly town over big-town traffic and smog any day! And with Medford International Airport having short, non-stop flights to both Seattle and San Francisco, it would be totally feasible for a large corporation like Apple or Microsoft to expand into Medford.

    With just a little shift in thinking to include expansion into the modern, technical side of things, I believe Medford could keep up with the ‘tech take-over’ and, who knows, the Big Tech companies might just see the benefits of going small-town. What do you think?

    1 Tomorrow Edition. The Digital Takeover: How tech companies plan to rule the world.

    2 City Lab. What Cities Really Need to Attract Entrepreneurs, According to Entrepreneurs.

    3   Zillow. Seattle Home Prices & Values.

    4 Business Insider. The First US City Where Average Homes Cost over $1 Million.

    5 Zillow. Medford Home Prices & Values.

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