Californians help bring golden tech sector to Bend
In 2003, Preston Callicott, now the CEO of Five Talent Software in Bend, was seeking a change for himself and his family. His home, in affluent Marin County north of San Francisco, came with pressures and lifestyle expectations that he didn’t want for his young children.
“I just felt California was not a realistic place to raise children,” Callicott said. “It was just a decision about how I wanted my family to evolve.”
Callicott made a list of seven mountain towns to visit with his wife, with Bend being the first stop on the list.
“We flew here, and within two and a half hours we said, ‘We’re moving here, this is awesome,’” he said Tuesday.
Callicott isn’t alone. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 1,833 people from California relocated to Deschutes County between 2009 and 2013, more than from any state outside Oregon, and higher than the combined migration total from the next five states on the list combined. More people moved to Deschutes County from Contra Costa County, located in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, than from adjacent Klamath County during that same period. Seven California counties had more inbound migrants to Deschutes than Wasco County, 95 miles to the north.
“It’s on the radar, for sure, like it’s never been before,” Callicott said. “It’s the buzz about us being one of those creative centers where lots of things are happening.”
While Californians being drawn to Bend is not a new story, the new arrivals have had a profound impact on the tech scene in Central Oregon. When Callicott arrived in 2003, tech companies were still few and far between, meaning he had to commute back and forth to Silicon Valley to continue working in the industry before finally taking his current position at Five Talent, which he converted into a growing software consulting firm, in 2010.
“I was a weekend dad for about seven years,” Callicott said.
However, the lack of tech jobs in Deschutes County has changed over the past five years. From the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2015, the number of high tech jobs in the county has grown by 36 percent, according to numbers supplied by Damon Runberg of the Oregon Employment Department. By comparison, jobs in Deschutes County have grown by 20 percent.
“As you can see high-tech has grown considerably faster than the countywide numbers (which is impressive since the county has seen very fast growth),” Runberg wrote in an email.
The growth is because of a variety of factors. Dino Vendetti, general fund manager with Bend-based Seven Peaks Ventures and a former Silicon Valley resident, pointed to the increased ease of working remotely as a contributing factor. While in the past working in a remote office was less accepted and more difficult from a technology standpoint, it has become more common in recent years. This, in turn, has freed up employees to work outside of the Bay Area.
“I think we’re seeing the regionalization of tech, and the growth of tech outside Silicon Valley,” Vendetti said.
For people who can work anywhere, factors such as cost of living and quality of life become more important.
Increased recognition of Central Oregon as a tourism market has helped as well, thanks in part to media campaigns in the state by Central Oregon’s tourism agency. According to data provided by Visit Bend, 17.7 percent of visitors to the city came from California, the largest percentage from any state outside Oregon. Alana Hughson, president and CEO of Central Oregon Visitors Association, reported that more than 20 percent of visitors to Central Oregon were from California in the 2015 fiscal year. The visitors association is entering its fourth consecutive fiscal year with Northern California as its top media market.
“In (fiscal year 2016), we expect to see the growth trajectory continue, as COVA increases our investment in Bay Area messaging,” Hughson wrote in an email.
While it’s difficult to say exactly how much of Bend’s tech industry growth is coming from companies and employees formerly based in California, the anecdotal accounts are striking. Both Callicott and Vendetti estimated that a majority of CEOs in the tech industry in Bend have spent time in Silicon Valley before coming to Central Oregon. In July, Kollective, a cloud computing firm formerly based in Sunnyvale, California, relocated its headquarters to Bend in what Vendetti called the first large, capital-backed venture to move from Silicon Valley to Central Oregon.
“It’s like waking up every day and feeling like you’ve won the lottery because you’re living in Bend,” said Kollective CEO Dan Vetras.
Vetras added that 12 employees moved up to the new Bend office — located in a suite in the 1001 Tech Center on SW Emkay Drive — and that new hires could ensure that the new Bend office is larger than the California office by the end of the year.
As companies arrive and grow in Bend, it creates what Callicott called a “tech ecosystem.” He said employees are more willing to move to Bend, knowing that if they lose their job or circumstances change, it will be possible to get another job in the industry without going elsewhere.
Furthermore, as more Californians arrive in the region, it has become common for them to advocate for Bend, leveraging their connections in their former homes.
Bruce Cleveland, general partner at the Bay Area investment firm InterWest Partners, currently splits his time between Silicon Valley and Bend after touching base with Vendetti about Bend’s growing tech scene. Cleveland launched Bend Polytechnic Academy, a digital marketing program designed to augment university education, with the help of Vendetti and Bluebird Strategies President Kari Baldwin, whom Cleveland knew from California.
While Bend’s tech scene still faces challenges, from developing a pool of homegrown applicants ready for the workforce to building affordable housing for new employees, Vendetti said he believes in the city’s ability to continue attracting talent.
“All they have to do is come up here and see the energy here,” Vendetti said. “Bend sells itself.”
— Reporter: 480-678-3357,