OtherPortland Mayoral Forum on Software and Entrepreneurialism

OEN member and local startup success, Elemental Technologies, hosted a Portland Mayoral Forum today with candidates Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith, who took questions for an hour on everything from the role of the Portland Seed Fund to each candidate’s “geek credentials.”
If you missed the event or livestream, OEN was there and put together a recap of the highlights. If you have anything to add to the conversation, please post a comment below on our blog. You can also check out what Portlanders had to say on Twitter at #pdxmayor.

Who’s the biggest geek?
With the theme of software and entrepreneurialism, both candidates were asked to prove their geek credentials.

From his early days playing Dungeons and Dragons and Atari 2600, Smith went on to highlight his legislative work to put the state budget online, enable electronic voter registration and support better broadband access across the city.

Hales, a self-described “fix-it guy” who roomed with four engineers in college and absorbed a sense of innovation, is proud of his legacy fighting AT&T to enable open access and is committed to bringing paperless billing to the city of Portland, among other projects.

Portland Mayoral Candidates Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales talk geeks, entrepreneurship and the future of Portland

Should Portland invest in an alternative to a four-year college education that would support technology workers?
Both Hales and Smith agreed that the city needs to invest in education and training of the workforce through public-private partnerships both within and outside of the higher education system.

Smith would like to see vocational programs like Benson High School and the ACE Academy extending their programs to evening hours and adult education to better prepare future employees; Hales said he would like to fix what he called “our anemic education funding structure” and address training and education across not just technology but all sectors. “We have 50,000 manufacturing jobs in Portland,” Hales said. “Portland still makes things.”

Would high-speed broadband give Portland an economic advantage?
Hales supports the city’s current 2010 Broadband Strategy and sees it as a great roadmap that he would build upon as mayor. The former city commissioner said equity is also an issue. While visiting a low-income housing development recently, Hales said seniors expressed concern about being able to afford Internet access on a fixed income.

Smith looks to cities like Nashville as a model for Portland’s broadband initiative and would like to continue growing Portland as a center for innovation in the film, video and computer gaming industries.

If Portland’s unofficial motto is “Put a Bird on It,” how do we keep our entrepreneurial “birdies” from migrating south when they grow up?
Hales: Access to capital, through programs like the Portland Seed Fund; access to physical plants and affordable office space; access to broadband.

Smith: Relationships; play to our distinctive strengths such as Portland’s livability; get companies invested in the local community.

What would a future Mayor Hales or Mayor Smith do differently to support the software industry?
Hales said simply, “More! There is a lot of good going on, but I want to do more.”

Smith also gave the current city administration high marks, but said he would focus more on recruiting talent and capital to the city, as well as engaging the technology community through more open government. “Imagine if we hosted a hackathon to improve the services of our city,” said Smith.

How would you describe the Portland brand in five words?
Hales: “The best place. Period.”

Smith: “Innovative. Values. Livable. Wonderful place. Trend-setting. That might be more than five words.”

What is your relationship with Portland State University and what would you do as mayor to strengthen the city’s engineering programs?
“As mayor, I would help vision the future of higher education in our city and what 21st century education looks like,” said Smith, whose wife is a graduate of PSU. “I see more online classes, more partnerships and more collaboration between higher education programs across the region.”

Hales, who has a long history of working with PSU, said he believes the Portland-area “constellation of public and private higher education institutions” is ripe for new innovations in collaboration, building off the model of the city, OHSU and the South Waterfront development.

The Portland Seed Fund helps invest in local business innovation – can it continue or is it better left to private investment?
Both candidates enthusiastically agreed that the Portland Seed Fund is a great program that is working and should be continued to support entrepreneurs in the community.

How can the city leverage local innovation and the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) economy better?
Hales said Portland is “behind the curve” on its permitting system and could be doing more to provide government services online. He would also like to see more technology and applications focused on neighborhood involvement.

Smith pointed to cities like Boston, which developed an app that enables citizens to “adopt” and maintain their street’s fire hydrant (i.e. remove snow from the hydrants during the winter so the fire department has access), and states like Hawaii that has done the same thing with Tsunami signs that get covered by brush. “We can do more if we put government in the hands of the people,” said Smith.

In 100 years, what would you like a Portland civics class at PSU to know about you and your administration?
Hales: Better schools, better transit, better parks.

Smith: Tell stories that are less about me and more stories about people who were committed to sustainability and democracy. More stories about people like Sam Blackman, whose company succeeded and enabled many spinoffs.

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