The A&O cluster in Portland

I was invited to join a discussion with a local radio station last week. The station (Oregon Public Broadcasting) has a show called Think Out Loud every morning at 9:00am. The topic was the A&O cluster, which is a group of businesses that make and sell products for the athletic and outdoor sector (audio archive here). The big players in the market are of course Nike, Adidas and Columbia. But there are hundreds of other businesses that fit into this category, mostly apparel makers, bike shops, and bike makers like Signal. I got to meet Peter Kallen the design director at NAU clothing. I'm kind of still trying to figure out how Signal fits into the larger discussion. We make bikes, but we don't make bikes in Portland because Nike is here. It seems that the PDC is trying to group all of these businesses together to identify a market and new business trend that they can then promote. I suppose the attention can provide momentum to improve conditions for businesses like ours. I feel like the cluster we really a part of is the bike industry, and in Portland there is a lot of room to promote this industry. There are no large manufactures of bicycles in Portland. I always wish we had our own Trek or Specialized. A successful company that was active in the national market and provided jobs here in town. It's hard to have this discussion without talking about domestic manufacturing. Most of the small builders like us make their own stuff. There are a few who contract out, but only one I know of that imports frames from Asia. Is there room for domestic manufacturing at a larger volume? China and Taiwan can kill us in price (and sometimes quality), but providing jobs here in the states should have some value too. The problem is that no one wants to pay the true cost of a product. "If I can get something cheaper, who cares where it is made?" I think we all should care. Being a citizen in our society means that we are more than just consumers. How would you feel if you went to work and found out that your company was moving everything you do to China because they can provide exactly the same service or product for a 60% reduction in price? It happens. If we demand the lowest price for a product as the only benchmark for making a purchase decision, we are just moving the wealth of our community out where it will do us no good.

I guess this is getting to be a rant. I'll stop there.

Buy local please.