Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in Bend on Thursday to discuss a federal earmark he sponsored to help Central Oregon facilitate venture capital funding and development, called it an “economic multiplier” that could lead to substantial business development in the region.
Wyden, who addressed a private meeting of local business professionals and board members of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said the funding — $232,500 to create a salaried position at EDCO to coordinate the region’s venture capital needs for the next three years — will help the region attract technology startups, grow its aviation sector and establish Central Oregon as a national hub for renewable energy.
“As far as I can tell, this is unique, which is how I presented it,” Wyden said in an interview with The Bulletin. “When everyone was talking in the trillions, we had a homegrown idea that required a very modest amount that could unleash a real entrepreneurial boomlet at a time when there is economic hurt in the region.”
The funding was included in the $410 billion federal appropriations bill passed March 11 by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Nori Juba, a Bend entrepreneur and a co-founder of the Bend Venture Conference, said the position’s responsibilities will include matching local technology startups with angel investors in the region, as well as assembling a stable of experts who can testify to the feasibility of any particular business idea.
Juba said investors are often happy to hear an investment pitch but reluctant to sign a check because they have no easy way to verify the pitch’s potential.
“It really helps us connect the dots, and hopefully we’ll see companies emerge, jobs created and investors make money,” Juba said.
The person hired for the position also will help coordinate investment in aviation and renewable energy companies in the region.
Wyden spent three years trying to get funding for the position, based on a proposal from Juba and Dan Hobin, founder of G5 Search Marketing in Bend and a co-founder of the Bend Venture Conference.
Juba said Bend has a wealth of entrepreneurial talent in the region, largely as the result of executives and former business owners who have retired to the region, but no good network for bringing them all out of the woodwork.
Juba said the Venture Conference has helped somewhat but noted that the 5-year-old event — held each October at the Tower Theatre — still disproportionately attracts technology startups from outside the region.
Juba hopes the new EDCO position will become a point person for venture capital inquiries that will help entrepreneurs find investors and vice versa.
“The conference created visibility, but if we can create a strong angel network out of something like this, it’s the real key to making this region take off,” Juba said.
In asking if there were other things that could be done to stimulate economic growth in the region, Wyden heard from several business leaders concerned with the lack of access to capital due to what they described as a near shut-off of commercial lending.
When told by Darren Powderly of Compass Commercial Real Estate that federal loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration were the only lending facility open to several prospective buyers in the region, Wyden said he would ask for the agency to increase its presence in the region.
Wyden also heard from others who asked the senator to look into the creation of tax credits or changes in the way capital gains taxes are assessed as a way to spur venture capital lending.
Andrew Moore can be reached at 541-617-7820 or at [email protected].