Welcome to Southern Oregon, We love innovators

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What is innovation?

How does innovation work in small business?

How does innovation work in a community?

The state of Oregon has been pushing hard to sponsor innovation throughout the state with grants for consultants to help define paths forward and processes for agencies to work together to support it.

But what is Innovation?

SOREDI went through a process a few years ago where they brought several stakeholders and champions from Southern Oregon together for several months to develop a plan for southern Oregon’s future. They ended up developing the region’s One Rogue Valley Strategy. The primary purpose of this Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is to be a road map for economic development efforts and initiatives and it will help the region gain federal and state grants that require it.

One piece of that plan is innovation. I served in that group. 

Maybe because I’m a tech guy. Maybe because I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not sure. 

But I kept wondering the whole time. What is Innovation and how do we encourage it?

The state wants to support innovation. But do innovators hire local people unless they set up a factory? Digital innovators move in and hire people from all over the world. We need more innovators that need more local employees. 

I proposed (tongue firmly planted in cheek) to the committee, to put up a sign on the border from California to Oregon. We need to let these Tesla Auto Pilot driving innovators that are driving from the Bay Area to Portland for a Vegan Pork Belly Sandwich (it’s a thing) know that we love them and want them to move to Southern Oregon and do their thing here. 

According to an article on HBR that I found, innovation can be broken up into 4 types. 

Breakthrough, Sustaining, Basic and Disruptive. 

Sustaining is where most of us are on a day to day basis. As business owners and managers responsible for the well being of our companies we constantly strive to fine tune and improve. We work hard to find efficiencies of scale and reduce costs and issues that will cost us money later down the line. 

Breakthrough innovation is what comes from mavericks. People that poke the system with a completely new and seemingly better way to do things. 

I challenge all of us to leave the comfort of Sustaining Innovation and spend most of our time in the Breakthrough Innovation quadrant. 

I also challenge us to spend our time actually solving a regional problem. More profit for your company is a small problem and you need to focus on it until you find it and then move on to a regional one. 

What I want to be doing for the last part of my life is solving regional problems. 

Southern Oregon is a wonderful and amazing place. It has it all. Outdoor Adventures for families and soloists. Vibrant, diversified people and economy and a wonderful sense of community and place. But it has issues too. 

Workforce Housing and our new Smoke Season, just to name a couple. 

What can we do as a region to invite, encourage and promote that southern Oregon is a place that wants innovators to move here and help us solve our regional issues?

We need problem solvers that want to join us in finding solutions to our problems, not just the world’s problems. 

We do not want to wait for someone else to solve our problems. 

Systemically we need to support the new innovators. 

That means K-12 is not about teaching kids to code anymore. It’s about teaching them how to work on a team to help us solve problems. 

It’s teaching that failure is an option, but not trying is not. 

It’s our higher education system working together to train local thinkers and doers. We need to find ways to train us up and keep the valley filled with innovator supporters. 

We need welders, builders, bosses, risk takers. We need to provide all the employees these innovators need.

And yes, they can also sing, dance and paint. They can ride dirt bikes or hike on trails, and they can hunt, camp, fish, read books on hammocks and/or raise families. 

Let’s face it, the pandemic changed everything. People can and do work from where they want to live, now. Innovators need problems to solve and a good place to live and raise their families. 

We need to find them, encourage them to move here for quality of life and help us solve our problems. 

Silicon Valley changed the world by encouraging smart people to get rich. Many did. But they created so many problems in doing so.

Let’s embrace the next generation of innovators. The young dreamers that want to make a difference and be appreciated for doing so. Let’s give them the power to make southern Oregon a better place for generations to come. 

I’ll be spending my time over the next couple of years finding innovators and sharing their stories. Hopefully it will encourage and inspire us all to find ways to be more innovative and regional problem solving day to day or supportive of those that do. 

Innovation is hard, important and exciting. 

Examples of ways that I have brought innovation into my businesses over the years:

Move to the cloud. (Sustaining) 

It started with my email and quick books over a decade ago and over the years I have moved more and more of the services I use daily to run my companies to the cloud. It saves me physical space and reduces my local footprint. Not to mention the company can still operate when fires burn through town.

Reduce the number of machines. (Sustaining) 

One of my companies is a Cable TV company. Each channel used to require two separate servers. Over the years we have migrated to digital channels and a consolidation of several channels to one server. The other day there was a problem in the head end and the team asked for help so I ran out there to help and I was shocked at how much less space we take up for TV in the head end now. Each server that is unplugged is a savings in electricity use and heat. 

Enhance Customer Safety. (Disruptive)

At Ashland Home Net we visit a lot of homes to help people. We install internet, cable TV and phone service. We also sometimes do house calls to help with email or new TVs. The point is we go to a lot of customers homes. If you think about it, we all have a lot of people visit our homes. But who are these people and are they really supposed to be there? 

Charter just got fined $7 Billion dollars because of one of their employees murdered a customer while driving a Charter truck on his day off and robbing the elderly customer he just installed service to the day before. 

[Jury orders Charter to pay $7 billion in technician’s murder of Texas customer] – https://www.ctinsider.com/news/article/Jury-orders-Charter-to-pay-7-billion-in-17330761.php

We came up with a way to alert a customer that we have someone on the way, what they look like and what their name is.  We are working on training our customers to expect to know when one of our team will be onsite. If someone shows up un announced, that isn’t right. 

We developed this and shared it with other ISPs and they are starting to adopt the approach. 

So now I’m developing a system for any company, plumbers, AC repair people, etc to be able to implement something simple and smart to help customers have more feeling of safety. A local idea that can become disruptive if the market will adopt it. 

So, earlier I told you that I think we have real world problems here in Southern Oregon. – they are not unique to us, but they are some of our problems. 

How can we find and inspire innovators to come to southern Oregon and work with us on finding solutions to our problems.?

The first one I mentioned is workforce housing. I should really say “affordable” workforce housing but you see the government uses that word to mean something very different. 

So for now I’ll just use the words “Workforce Housing” with the intent to be affordable for my employees that make $30K to $50K a year. 

It’s now $375,000 for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath 1300 SQFT home in Grants Pass. Wow!

“Fixing” the problem by raising the minimum wage didn’t work. It did as many predicted, raised costs, which only exacerbated the issue. 

We have to look at the problem systematically. It costs too much to build new housing. Why? Labor shortage. There are not enough builders. Let’s make more builders. Why is it that our kids grow up wanting to be barista’s? Where did we go wrong? (Note: I have 4 nieces and nephews that are awesome baristas and I hope I didn’t insult them) 

Wood costs too much. Why? We don’t have forests for farming wood from here in Oregon. We have to import it all. Excuse me? This is Oregon. Trees grow like weeds. Let’s grow them intentionally. 

Jackson County passed a no GMO law years ago because we were afraid of eating fish genes in our salad. OK. But in Josephine county they still allow GMO farming and they have land. Can we genetically modify a tree gene to grow straight, strong and fast? I bet we could. Because fish genes might end up in the wood we could call it “Steelhead Lumber”. Sustainable, Strong, Affordable Lumber for the rest of us. 

Can we learn from Boxable factory built homes and the tiny home movement to build very nice small homes?

Can we build communities for nice tiny homes that are not just for homeless people? Can tiny homes be like Lego’s and snap together as your family grows. 

Can we build manufactured homes that the bank will loan on because the home will last for 40 years?

Home ownership is not the goal. It’s housing for my employees that deserve a nice, clean, safe place to live that is well within their means. 

Drought is an issue. Smoke Season is an issue. The same model of thinking about potential solutions can apply.

I don’t have the answers, just a lot of ideas and a desire to work with others to find solutions.

How do we work together to find solutions? We can’t stand around and blame each other. Democrats’ fault. Republicans’ fault. I’m tired of that crap. Let’s stand together. Acknowledge our regional issues, roll our sleeves up and get to work. 

Innovation is the key to unlocking solutions to our region’s problems. 

It’s time to embrace the innovators and let them know “Welcome to Southern Oregon, we love innovators” 

We have the place, people and some really good broadband. Please move here, work with us and let’s find solutions to some regional problems together. 

Some of you will read this and fire off a reply or a dozen of them as to why we can’t do anything, and that’s ok. I’m looking for the few that say “yes we can”. 

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  1. Cynthia Scherr on August 9, 2022 at 10:50 am

    yes, Yes, YES we can! We are a great place for entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams. We know each other. We can get stuff done. And we can still ski, raft, fly fish, drink craft beer and sip award winning wine.

    • Carl Armstrong on September 13, 2022 at 3:29 am

      Hi Cynthia,
      I’m currently in southern ca / AZ wanting to relocate to cooler climate and beautiful greenery,
      Big outdoors fan, also love the coast
      been self employed all my life looking for others to network with up that way
      any useful suggestions, ideas, resources would be greatly appreciated

      best regards

  2. KY on August 17, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    Sounds like an article written by a Californian who hasn’t really been around Oregon for long.
    We don’t have forests for farming wood in Oregon?? Wow, umm have you ever left your house and driven through umm anywhere??? Ever looked at a map? Literally every inch of Oregon is being logged. We have enough local “innovators” and Californication is not in Oregon’s best interest. Places like OIT and the Universities are pumping out geniuses.. Keep Oregon Oregon. Promote local innovation.

  3. KY on August 17, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    By workforce housing you mean more apartment complexes, trailer parks and ghetto urban sprawl. No thank you. Ever looked at Google Maps? Nearly every inch of Oregon forest are in various stages of being logged.

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