In a state still struggling to clamber out of recession, job creation is at a premium.
On a visit to Corvallis Wednesday, Gov. John Kitzhaber checked in on one of his administration’s economic development initiatives and heard several success stories, as well as some cautionary notes.
Kitzhaber spent an hour at the offices of the Oregon State University Foundation, where he got a progress report on the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network, better known as Oregon RAIN. Launched in 2013 with $3.75 million from the Legislature, it’s a collaborative effort by OSU, the University of Oregon and the cities of Corvallis, Albany, Eugene and Springfield that aims to launch and nurture startup companies that can put area residents back to work.
It was one of several mid-valley stops on the day’s agenda for Kitzhaber, who is touring the state this week highlighting challenges and opportunities facing Oregon as he begins his fourth term in office. Wednesday’s itinerary began in Lebanon with a tour of Linn-Benton Community College’s Advanced Transportation Technology Center, then shifted to Corvallis for the RAIN presentation, a tour of OSU’s College of Forestry and a guest lecture on campus.
“It takes a community to launch an entrepreneur,” Oregon RAIN director Jim Coonan said of his organization’s philosophy. In addition to providing incubator space in both Corvallis and Eugene, Coonan said, it offers a host of support services for fledgling ventures, from OSU- and UO-licensed technology to one-on-one mentoring by savvy business veterans and access to a network of local investors.
The governor heard presentations from three graduates of the Corvallis RAIN incubator program, also known as the OSU Advantage Accelerator, all of which are generating revenue and making plans for growth.
Bosky makes sunglasses and snowsport goggles using green materials such as plant-based plastics, hemp and recycled nylon fleece. Founded by a pair of OSU students, the firm brought in $80,000 last year from online sales and hopes to generate $300,000 in sales this year.
Baker Seed Technologies, which produces coated grass seed that has its own built-in fertilizer, is shooting for $50 million in sales by 2019.
Valliscor, which has developed what it claims is a highly cost-efficient method for manufacturing a key ingredient used in the widely sold medications Flonase and Advair, did not disclose sales figures but said it is rapidly growing both revenues and staff.
All three credited Oregon RAIN’s support for helping them get off the ground, but they voiced concerns as well. Baker Seed’s Stan Baker, for instance, worried that Oregon could lose manufacturing jobs to other states that are beginning to launch their own seed-coating industries, while Valliscor co-founder Rich Carter stressed the need for more wet lab space to allow fast-growing chemical companies like his to expand locally rather than migrating elsewhere.
“This is just incredible,” Kitzhaber said of the companies coming out of the incubator program, adding that he’d see what he could do about getting some additional funding from the Legislature.
“The session’s just starting,” he quipped. “We’ve got money to spend.”