Oregon turns to startups to fuel economic growth

Startups are the real job creators.

That’s the conclusion of the new head of Oregon’s economic development agency, who says the state needs to be focusing on homegrown talent rather than recruitment of large outside firms.

Sean Robbins, director of the Oregon Business Development Department, recently announced a major change in strategy for the state: Oregon will focus on supporting homegrown companies and scale back out-of-state recruitment.

According to Robbins, the state will shift its focus away from external recruitment towards local entrepreneurs, the group historically responsible for creating new jobs across the country—about three million each year. In contrast, established companies on average destroy one million jobs each year.

Robbins’ announcement was just one sign that Oregon business boosters are looking inward instead of outward to fire the state’s economic engines. Economic development leaders from across the state echoed that theme when they met last week in Eugene for the Oregon Economic Development Association (OEDA) Annual Conference. OEDA is a statewide non-profit working to support economic development professionals who are on Oregon’s front line in diversifying and expanding Oregon’s economy.

Representatives from the Eugene startup community—including Joe Maruschak, director of the RAIN Eugene Accelerator; Shula Jaron, executive director of Fertilab Incubator; and Claire Seguin, executive director of NEDCO—participated in panel discussions at the OEDA conference to showcase success stories from Lane County, including the increased collaboration between local partners.

“It’s exciting to see such great interest in supporting entrepreneurship from everyone involved in economic development statewide,” Maruschak said. “We know that in order to make an entrepreneurial economy work, we need entrepreneurs working with local government to create the conditions for businesses to succeed.”

Participants at the OEDA conference reiterated the central role entrepreneurship and innovation will start to take across the state and stressed the importance of cultivating Oregon’s growing reputation as a startup friendly state.

In a recent article from Forbes Magazine, Oregon was listed as one of the top ten markets for job growth for the first three quarters of 2014, in part due to the increasing startup activity in Portland and other markets across the state. The state has recently seen an influx of young, talented workers, and state leaders are hoping to continue the trend by capitalizing on current growth.

In Eugene/Springfield, efforts to support economic development and job growth include the ongoing effort to grow the entrepreneurial network. The Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN) initiative looks to be a central player in the “innovation network” by helping entrepreneurs connect with the University of Oregon as well as with other sources to find the resources and mentorship they need to guide their companies from conception to realization.

As a partner in the RAIN initiative, the University of Oregon is seeking to increase its regional economic engagement through several programs, including the Graduate Internship Program and UO Career Services, which help connect students and industry partners to meet the needs of the state workforce.

To learn more about the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network in Oregon, visit their website for more information.