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Portland has come a long way

By: Tom Gurr

What is the difference between Portland and a nanometer? 

One is a technologically important part of the modern world; the other is a billionth of a meter.

Portland isn’t the biggest city on the west coast or even the Northwest, but the region – nicknamed the ‘Silicon Forest’ by some hosts a remarkable number of high tech companies doing cutting edge research and work in a wide variety of fields.  For the first time this year, TechAmerica Oregon’s annual technology awards had a tie.  Hillsboro’s FEI Company and nLight Corporation based in Vancouver, were both awarded System/Hardware Company of the Year.  FEI designs and builds electron microscopes for working at the sub-one billionth meter level and nLIGHT constructs high powered solid state lasers.

It’s a far cry from Portland’s beginning as a clearing in the woods for travelers to rest between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver.

In fact, competition, evolving technology and innovation are moving so fast that some older rules and regulations have begun to hamper instead of help the marketplace.  Modernizing these rules would keep cities like Portland and the Northwest on the path to innovation and job creation.

In just the last ten years the Internet has fundamentally altered how we interact, communicate, shop, research, work, and entertain ourselves.  Technology companies have taken full advantage of this lightly regulated sandbox for innovation and brought a host of new services online that improve the daily lives of millions.  The excitement that inflated and popped during the dot com bubble is back, this time with real, tangible results.

Ironically, much of the infrastructure that enables the magic of grocery shopping on Amazon, or Skyping with a loved one thousands of miles away is being built out and maintained by former telephone service operators reborn as Internet and communications technology companies.  While they still maintain the older wireline services, the massive shifts in how we communicate have all arrived because of their ability to move quickly and adapt to industry, commercial, and consumer needs in an arena largely free of government’s guiding hand.

The scale of investment necessary to build the Internet and communications systems we use today is vast, but it has in large part been successfully undertaken by private companies with an eye towards the future and confidence that it is tomorrow’s technologies that will make us successful, not yesterday’s.

Rainy days are a part of life in here in the Northwest.  But when things turn damp outside we go to work inside.  It is a modern world out there and technology changes fast and how we use it changes faster.  The last century witnessed a clearing in the woods transform into a laser-manufacturing, electron microscope-designing city on the sea. If government and regulators can keep pace, who knows what it will be in the next hundred years.

Categories Blog, Featured Story | Tags: | Posted on July 24, 2012

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