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Bend the Next Palo Alto? No Thanks.



Jonathan Heiliger, Facebook’s vice president for technical operations, was in town yesterday, and he said an astonishing thing.

“I think Bend has the potential to be as good as Palo Alto – if not better,” Heiliger told the crowd at the Bend Venture Conference. He said there’s a “robust investment community in Bend” that could turn it into a hub of high-tech innovation similar to the San Francisco suburb where David Packard and Bill Hewlett launched the tech revolution in Packard’s garage.

Central Oregon probably can attract more high-tech investment and industry, and I hope it does, but let’s not get carried away with this “next Palo Alto” business.

Palo Alto has a few things going for it that Bend does not. It is about a 20-minute drive away from a major city. It is home to one of the world’s great universities (Stanford) and just across the bay and down the road from another great university (Berkeley). It has access to a huge pool of very smart, highly educated people with every technical skill imaginable.

It also has access to a huge pool – make that a huge lake – of money. According to the website, Palo Alto had an estimated median household income in 2008 of $108,020. (Bend’s was $51,592.) The median house or condo value was $1,338,628. (In Bend it was $345,200.)

But Palo Alto is barely middle-class compared to other nearby communities like Menlo Park, Atherton and Los Altos Hills.

And, unlike Bend, Palo Alto really does have 300 days of sunshine a year.

So the chances of Bend turning into the next Palo Alto appear rather slim. But then, do we really want it to?

Speaking for myself, I can do without the traffic, pollution and other headaches of life in Silicon Valley – including the culture of non-stop hurry and hustle. (When somebody asked Heiliger what sports he was into, he replied: “I work all the time. That's what people do where I'm from.”)

Many of us remember when Bend was being touted as “the next Aspen,” and we know how that turned out. Maybe instead of always dreaming about being “the next Someplace Else” we should focus on being the best Bend we can be.

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