City Tech, Country Tech: A Town's Quest to Be the Next Region Overrun by Progress

They've got places to ride your mountain bike in Bend, Ore. They're called “mountains.”

There are also golf courses, rivers awaiting the fly-fisherman, opportunities for stand-up paddleboarding, $250,000 homes, good public schools, and 26 brewpubs in a town of some 80,000.

But they don't have $4 toast.

That's a problem. For all its amenities, Bend has determined it lacks a sufficient number of tech companies — and the ascendant, free-spending young people who make them go. So, the nonprofit Economic Development for Central Oregon has launched a “Bay Area Recruitment Campaign.” Tech companies and overpriced boutique snacks are certain to follow.

“We see the Bay Area as being the lowest-hanging fruit,” says Nate LiaBraaten, EDCO's Bend business development manager. The price of toast is just the start — the cost of just about everything is out of whack in San Francisco; in Bend you could afford to put a kid or two into that stroller instead of a Pomeranian.

Bend, like San Francisco, has funneled public money into flaunting itself to the tech sector. But, rather than forgo millions in taxes, as this city did, Deschutes County has ponied up a modest $10,000 to do some branding and launch a website. That webpage:

Yes, the pitch is “Bend for Tech.”

This slogan was the product of months of committee meetings: “It was the collective choice,” LiaBraaten confirms. When asked if anyone noticed that the “Bend” in “Bend for Tech” could be construed as a verb instead of a proper noun, he laughs nervously. “I guess we did. But maybe it will get people talking.”

San Francisco, however, has done more than talking. One could argue that “Bend for Tech” is an accurate description of this city's policy. In a recent New York Times interview, Mayor Ed Lee candidly admits he meets with a tech company every week, quizzes employees on the origin of their firms' stupid names, and asks, “What do I need to do to keep you in the city?”

San Francisco, in other words, is actively allowing itself to be remade into something more appealing to tech companies and their workers. Bend, on the other hand, is marketing itself to tech companies and workers who find its extant lifestyle appealing as it is.

So, perhaps $4 toast won't pop up in Bend, even if tech companies do. LiaBraaten's arguments for relocating to central Oregon — affordable housing, quality schools, overall quality of life — are entirely rational.

The ongoing tech boom, and San Francisco's incestuous relationship with it, is not.

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