The Cooperator: Portland, Oregon
"Portland and Oregon are the only places I've seen where constituency groups that normally fight come together," says Gerry Langeler of Portland's OVP Venture Partners. "They've decided that the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network is the engine where entrepreneurs can go for guidance, training, networking and being introduced to venture capitalists. We just decided that the town is too small to have competing ventures." That kind of cooperation is a boon in a city that doesn't draw the type of capital investments found in Silicon Valley or Seattle. But Portland has made do with the great resources it does have, creating vibrant electronics, clean-tech, health sciences and apparel sectors, and one of the largest and most innovative open source software communities in the world. Plus, the quality of life--Portland is a perennial favorite on most livable and most sustainable cities lists--means a high retention rate for workers. There's only one downside: Portland may be too genial. "For good or ill, the collaborative mind-set tends to diffuse that killer instinct," says Langler. "We don't have too many people obsessed with dominating the world market."
The idea for Tarran Pitschka's clothing line came to him as he stood between two funny cars at the starting line of the Pomona Speedway. "It was pure exhilaration. There were 80,000 screaming fans, and the cars were so loud, I thought my teeth would rattle out of my head," he says. "That's when it hit me: I needed to make a clothing brand based on the human fascination with speed and fear." A few years later, his Wicked Quick clothing line is now available in Nordstrom, Metropark and select Harley Davidson dealers around the country, and has shown up on the backs of stars such as John Cusack. The former Nike and No Fear designer views Portland as a big part of that success. "This is one of the central spots in the world to draw on talent for the apparel business," Pitschka says. "There's so much more optimism and possibility here. There's no reason to be anywhere else." Wicked Quick, which employs 11 full-time employees and contract designers, has seen rapid growth: Pitschka predicts the American-made brand will reach $50 million in five years with the introduction of watches, sunglasses and a Wicked Quick energy drink. Part of that expansion, he hopes, will be financed by local angel groups that have heard his pitches. But even if his company hits it big, Pitschka doesn't anticipate bailing on his city. "There are so many creative people, I can get anything I want designed or made," he says. "Maybe it was chance, or maybe being here was meant to be."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.