Ashland software pioneer Jim Teece challenged a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County audience to encourage entrepreneurs and innovation at Monday's monthly forum in Medford.
"When I want to take a pulse of how our community thinks about a particular issue, I go and see how we voted," Teece said. "It doesn't matter if I agreed with it or not. What matters is it's done, how can I help that community grow."
Bend and Deschutes County often surpass the Rogue Valley on cutting-edge innovations, but the founder of Project A and Ashland Home Net told his Rogue Valley Country Club listeners the communities trend the same politically.
"If they can do those innovations, so can we," Teece said. "You can't say we don't do those things because we're conservative here. Well, they're just as conservative and they're doing incredibly innovative things; we've got to stop making excuses for ourselves."
Teece said the Rogue Valley needs to grow an entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur ecosystem.
"The people in this room are the support system for entrepreneurs," he said. "We need to make sure the entrepreneurs feel like they have a voice, and they have a place, and that they truly have an opportunity to build something huge here."
At the same time, there has to be great efforts to retain coming generations, he said.
Teece taught a social marketing class at Southern Oregon University with about 30 students. When he asked how many of his students plan to stay in the valley and get a job, three hands went up.
"There are no jobs in Southern Oregon is what they think," Teece said. "It's what they're told, it's what we're all saying.
"I was really, really disappointed in myself, that we haven't figured out how to fix this problem. We have a massive brain drain going on. This is one class. I'm sure if I went to class to class to class, it would be about the same percentage; people feel like they have to leave the valley. It may not be true, but they think it."
He said the Rushmore Society, a social and professional network that encourages outdoor and other activities, is good place to connect with young innovators.
Although he has high regard for the Medford area, Teece suggested the cost structure is debilitating to business.
"Here is the real issue," he said. "I fly on demand. My clients say I need you in my office tomorrow for a meeting. It costs $400 for me to buy a ticket to Portland. I have two choices to get the $400 ticket, 5 a.m. or 1 p.m. We've got to help (the airlines) to understand that we need frequency and we need $99 flights. I'm not talking about tourism, I'm talking about business. My business is built around their hub-and-spoke model; if they don't serve certain communities, I can't do business in that community. I've got to be able to get to that community."
He said the region needs to recruit small businesses like his with clients all over the world, because the money his firm makes stays in the Rogue Valley.
"I need affordable, frequent transportation to do that," Teece said. "We've got to figure out how to make that happen. We have an awesome freeway, and that's my backup. When a client needs to see me, most times I jump in the car because it's more convenient for me to drive."
Teece said the Rogue Valley needs to fight to develop its identity so that corporations don't replicate freeway exits looking no different than the ones travelers saw the night or two nights before.
"We can't let multi-billion-dollar corporations build our community," Teece said. The small companies, whether upstarts or long-tenured, can help avoid cookie-cutter tendencies.
"We have to define what our community is, or else we will look like every other community.
"If we all work together, we can redesign and reboot. We can build a community we know our kids are going to want to work in, live in and grow in."
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.