High-tech appears ready for expansion

BEND — Figures from the Oregon Employment Department show the state's high-tech sector has grown in recent months. Perhaps something is in the air, or the water, around the Beaver State.

Numbers for Central Oregon are not yet available. But anecdotal evidence shows several technology-heavy companies in Deschutes County moving toward expansion rather than contraction.

Some companies, such as PV Powered and G5, have been on an uptick for years and simply continue to grow. Others, such as Alchemy Solutions Inc. and Dent Instruments, are only now moving to bigger digs to make room for new hires, or considering the idea.

However it all comes together, a sense of expansion is afoot at some Deschutes County high-tech companies.

"I do think there's more growth in the tech sectors," said Lewis Howell, a co-founder of the shared office TechSpaceBend. "They're loosening up. They're starting to spend money."

Especially since the beginning of 2011, Howell said he has seen companies being "more willing to either kick off projects they had on hold or initiate new projects."

Howell isn't sure why the economic clouds could be lifting in this corner of the world, but he does believe they are. At TechSpaceBend, he said, the place has been roughly at capacity for two or three months, and newbies are stopping by the downtown buildingall the time.

Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said he is aware of several companies increasing employment or expanding facilities in recent months. Excellent quality of life and relatively low overhead costs rank among the top reasons for setting up shop and staying here, Lee said.

A successful product can boost sales, which in turn can result in more hiring, he said.

What's more, it's possible more companies are laying off people, some of whom go on to start their own companies. That would explain the generally increasing number of companies both in Oregon and in Deschutes County. "Some won't survive," Lee said. "Many will."

Whatever the scenarios, growth stories abound at Deschutes County technology companies.

Earlier this month, Dent Instruments, a Bend manufacturer of energy-measurement devices, said it had bought a Bend building to serve as its new headquarters.

Jim Harrer, president of Bend-based Alchemy, which produces software for moving organizations from mainframe computing systems to less costly alternatives — such as Microsoft's .NET platform — said the company is in the process of starting to also work directly with clients to install programs rather than rely on another company to do so. To accommodate the changes, Harrer said, the company is considering a move to a much bigger office location in the city. Meanwhile, Alchemy is looking to add marketing and software development employees.

SocialEatia.com, a Bend-based website that advertises restaurants' specials and other promotions through social media, made its site live last month, and CEO Evan Julber said he intends to fill up the company's large office in the Old Mill District with plenty of new employees. A beefed-up local work force, Julber said, will give the company the ability to respond to customer-service requests from users of SocialEatia sites in other cities, which are to come within a few months.

TeleSource Center, a technology-focused telemarketing company that moved its operations from Phoenix, Ariz., to Bend last year, has already jumped to a bigger space in the city and hired several new employees to work as representatives at the new location. TeleSource also is spending to keep servers at its site, in order to hold its own data locally — a change from previous operations.

Manzama, a Bend company that specializes in Web-based subscriptions to streams of legal information taken from social media websites, has been adding employees steadily since it was established last year. In December, the Bend City Council unanimously approved a $26,000 loan to the company from the Bend Opportunity Fund, after the company proposed the hiring of 13 new employees by July 2012. In October, Manzama won the $200,000 prize from the 2010 Bend Venture Conference, for a presentation that impressed investors.

The Bend company GL Solutions, which designs software for state regulatory agencies around the country, received a $50,000 loan from Deschutes County in December. The loan was intended to help the company move to a larger office space in Bend, which happened in January, and to hire and train more employees.

Also in December, the company said it would double its work force from 40 to more than 80 after it had secured a contract from North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. It has hired 35 people since Jan. 1 and looks to hire nine to 11 more this year.

Carolyn Eagan, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said statistics for 2010 and 2011 are not yet available. All she could do was share her personal impressions of what has happened in Deschutes County since the end of 2009, when the currently available data end.

Eagan said she suspects 2010 will prove to be a turning point for high-tech in Deschutes County.

"The state data shows that 2010 didn't do a ton, but ... the beginning of 2011 ... has shown some growth," she said. "So it could be flat for 2010, and we'll see the growth, maybe," in 2011.

Lee is more confident of an improvement as of late.

"We've really seen the biggest growth in the last quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011," Lee said.

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