SoloPower story highlights 'coopetition'
By Andy Giegerich
Business Journal staff writer
SoloPower's destination change — from Wilsonville to Portland — shines a light on the business recruitment process.
Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp is angry.
SoloPower, a maker of thin-film solar panels, had for months planned to relocate in a former Nike Inc. warehouse in Knapp’s city, 20 miles south of Portland.
Yet the company abandoned Wilsonville’s 19,000 residents last week, confirming it would instead bring its $340 million plant and 500 employees to Portland.
The move left Knapp wondering whether Oregon’s economic development initiatives favor Oregon’s larger cities.
“They clearly would have been a bigger fish in our economic pond than in Portland’s economic pond,” he said.
SoloPower began seeking other locations in mid-April after Wilsonville residents threatened to put the city’s proposed new urban renewal district, through which it could offer SoloPower incentives, to a vote.
The vote would have delayed construction, jeopardizing a $197 million federal loan guarantee SoloPower received for capital construction.
While SoloPower CEO Tim Harris said Portland officials didn’t poach his business, the SoloPower-Portland marriage, nonetheless, spotlights the delicate economic recruiting dance that cities go through with their neighbors.
Regional economic developers often work closely with each other to devise recruiting strategies intended to lure new businesses to their areas. They call the process “coopetition.”
Yet if it gets to the end-game stage, it can turn into an every-city-for-itself venture.
“‘Coopetition’ means that we cooperate on pitching a company and we market the region as a good location for the business,” said Colin Sears, the Portland Development Commission’s strategic site recruitment manager. “Once a business is looking at the region, we do compete on which jurisdiction lands the deal.”
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