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High tech draw: Beers and bikes

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When it comes to attracting tech companies to the valley, sometimes it comes down to factors as small as how many microbreweries your city has, or how many miles of bike paths.

That’s what keynote speaker Mary Hebert told the Southern Oregon Business Conference Thursday afternoon at the Inn of the Commons in Medford.

“These are things that speak to — and they might not be hard quantitative things — but they’re speaking to the overall culture and feeling of a community,” she said.

Hebert and the other featured speakers focused on bringing clarity to the economic and business future of the Rogue Valley and beyond, even as organizers acknowledged some confusion over whether Thursday’s event was the 15th or 16th year running.

The grand ballroom was filled with economists, public officials, entrepreneurs and bankers meeting and greeting during breaks. While they sat, though, they learned about an equally diverse set of topics, from the impacts of tax law changes to what tech companies consider attractive or repelling about communities.

The latter came from Hebert, the senior vice president for North America business development with WAVTEQ. The company consults with businesses across the world, largely on foreign direct investment transactions.

“People often choose a place before they choose a company,” she told the room. Tech companies looking to expand or businesses looking for companies to invest in increasingly care about culture and even politics.

Some companies shy away from expanding into areas that don’t support progressive social policy, for example.

It was Hebert’s insights such as those that drew Jon Stark, senior director of Redmond Economic Development Inc., to head over the Cascades to attend the conference.

“I think communities are always trying to figure out the recruitment game,” Stark said. “When we have folks that are leading the U.S. in terms of using technology and data in the recruitment game, that’s what WAVTEQ does, so it’s a tremendous opportunity to come here ... to see the perspectives of a company that does this worldwide.”

The other presenters included Rob O’Neill and Dan LaPour from Moss Adams’ Portland office. They spoke about the impacts that business owners could expect from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

John Darrow, a senior principal engineer at Amazon, offered tips on what to look for when hiring employees — a combination he called “wicked smart and lucky” — and answered questions about the likelihood of drones taking a significant delivery role in the near future.

“There was a great balance between local expertise and out of state perspectives, of fresh eyes,” said Marta Tarantsey, Jackson and Josephine counties’ regional development officer for Business Oregon.

University of Oregon economics professor Dr. Timothy Duy kicked off the event with information on what to expect in the 2019 economy. After a year that ended in plunging stock market returns, anxieties needed to be assuaged with more data, he said.

Despite some falling numbers, Duy said, other typical indicators that the economy is headed into recession soon — payroll and industrial production, for example — are not pointing in that direction.

“If somebody says the economy is in recession right now, that’s just clearly wrong,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any likelihood of that.”

But other global growth indicators are down, as are more localized metrics such as single-family home purchases in Oregon. Duy acknowledged that a variety of factors will continue to contribute to economic uncertainty in 2019, from the ongoing Brexit conversation to higher interest rates and trade policy.

“We look into 2019 and we say, ‘there’s lots of reasons to think that economic activity will be slower and there’s some concern out there,’ ” he said. “We had a really good 2018.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMary Hebert speaks at SOREDI at Inn at the Commons in downtown Medford Thursday.
Inside the 2018 SOREDI Southern Oregon Business ConferenceThumbnail