Alana Probst works for the nonprofit Ecotrust and looks for ways a community can create sustainable businesses.
"When I worked in Eugene, Ore., in the early "80s, I learned the
hard way that recruiting industry can be a nightmare. The whole
city turned out for a party when we brought in executives from a
chocolate company. We flew them in, hired architects for them, gave
them tax credits and free salaries for a year, plus we built them a
road. Then it turned out these same folks had torched their last
plant. They were indicted for arson and never
"That's what got me started working with
existing businesses, creating jobs one by one. I didn't know it was
called "import substitution'; it just made
"I saw all these thousands of students in
Eugene wearing daypacks, yet not one was made locally. We never did
the backpacks - couldn't get the quantity buyer - but the first
year I picked about 20 businesses like that and tried to do deals.
We brought about $2 million back to the economy just on deals where
businesses could produce something they didn't before. For
instance: We found out that all the band uniforms came from back
East and were all wool. In Oregon, it rains a lot, and wet wool
isn't fun. I got a clothing manufacturer to design band uniforms
out of Gore-Tex for the University of Oregon.
didn't take import substitution over to Willapa because you can't
find the deals so easily in a rural area. There's more diversity in
a community the size of Eugene, and import substitution requires a
lot more secondary manufacturing.
we're trying to build skills from logging and fishing to canning
and processing and marketing, while we add value to the products
such as cranberries, oysters and salmon.
you're innovating, though, it's harder to get money - particularly
in an area that's almost been blackballed by banks. People who have
been in fishing, farming and logging are the people who are the
most risky. If you buy into a chain like McDonalds, most banks will
welcome your business.
"We've gone into this
process in Willapa with a 1,000-year plan. Because if you think of
the natural cycles of a cedar tree, it's 1,000 years. They are the
oldest thing in the ecosystem. We need to take those life cycles
into account and try to relate that to our business plan."