Archive | February, 2010

Desire for kayak power boost helps boost WindPaddle

27 Feb

Part of the fun of kayaking is the paddling. Part of the pain of kayaking is the … paddling. If you’re not in shape, or you’ve been doing it too long and you just don’t want to do it anymore, or maybe you never did see it as all that much fun, but you like the idea of kayaking, a fast-growing little Hood River company is serving up one answer.

It’s called WindPaddle, and it’s the brainchild of Nick Mark Wiltz. As the photo here shows, WindPaddle works to tap the wind so that you kayakers don’t have to paddle quite so much. It’s a lightweight, easily launched “sail” — more like a wind sock, really, to my eyes — that works great for down-winders.

“In the last 25 years, there have been two new entries into this market,” Wiltz told me when we chatted the other day.

Oddly enough, both are in Hood River — his company, and the Kayak Sailor. The latter takes a more traditional approach to tapping the wind for a kayak boost — upright mast, boom, etc.

Wiltz went another direction. “Ours is a round, perimeter-battened sail,” he says. “It’s a downwind sail. It does what canoes and kayaks do well. If you try to turn them into a sailboat, you need rudders and other stuff, and by that point, you might as well go out and buy a sail boat.”

Kayaking purists, of course, scoff at such notions. Getting a free ride? Pshaw, let’s muscle-up, gang. If, however, you don’t mind admitting that a little carbon-free assist to your destination isn’t such a bad idea, the WindPaddle is light weight — 13 ounches vs. maybe 3 pounds for other rigs — and economical — $175 or so vs. maybe $350.

Simple to install, too. It just clips into place.No bolts, no holes, no hassle.

Wiltz has an engineering background, worked for Luhr Jensen at the Port for years, then as a chemist, then rigged sailboats. He’s been playing with this idea, in his garage on the Heights, for five years. Three years ago, he jumped into the market and sold maybe 45 sails.

“It’s exploded,” he says. “Growth has been exponential.”

When you produce 4,200 units, that’s exponential. He’s looking to expand, and move — locally. That may be the best news of all: Local roots, local branches. Sail away, Nick.

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Quit looking for a job: Start your own business

25 Feb

Sure, the economy sucks, but at least you now know the true value of your home (and no, it isn’t the same as a bank). Whatever your situation, you may have thought: I’d like to start a business. And then you hit a wall, with the inevitable follow-on thought: But … how … in … the … heck … do … I … do … THAT?

You can teach yourself. Pretty heavy lifting there, but it works, if you’re OK with the psychic pain of digging out all the answers from all the phone trees and all the bureaucrats in the world. Or you can jump start the process by contacting your local Small Business Development Center (in the Gorge it’s connected with Columbia Gorge Community College).

Or you can work with a private provider of advice, someone who has been down the road and wants to smooth the bumps for you. Meet Scott See (aka J. Hammock & Associates LLC). Scott is a great guy, who escape the cube farm years ago, and isn’t looking back. He and his wife run an export business, selling into the challenging Japanese market. He also does web design and hosting and a variety of other geeky things, that help you get the job done.

He realized not long ago that he could package his experience and share it (for a price) with people who want to do something similar. It’s here: Steps to Starting Your Business, an online course, runs for a year, and costs $29 a month ($348). It includes domain registration, hosting and basic site design for your web presence.

The course covers such things as business registration, business checking, business credit cards, setting up accounting software, tax records and deductions for home office use, online bulletin boards as a customer relationship management tool, and marketing for small businesses in an electronic world.

Full disclaimer: Scott hasn’t paid me or offered me anything, and I haven’t taken the course. But I’ve worked with Scott (he hosted the Downtown Business Association site, and handled design for it), and he’s a good egg.

Call Scott at 509-493-2296.

Favorite taqueria in Hood River (OK, the Gorge)?

25 Feb

One reason we love the Hood is the abundance of great street food (OK, it’s not too varied … it’s basically Mexican street food, but that’s … great, as I said). And I think I might find some agreement if I said that generally speaking, the sit-down Mexican fare in the Gorge is pretty barf, when compared to the taco trucks. The Hood River Taqueria on the Heights is the notable exception. Ixtapa? Casa El Mirador? Puh-leeze.

For a quick and tasty bite on a budget, the carts rock. The food cart scene in Portland has become legend, getting all sorts of national exposure. And the thing that makes it go is the variety, plus distribution — it’s all over town.

What about here? What’s your favorite place — and you’ll see that I’ve expanded the list of possibles to include one that I like in The Dalles, so think of this as a Gorge-wide poll because, as you surely know, you never know when you might run out of taco and need a fillup. Sorry I don’t have names for some of these. Sometimes, it’s just a location operating pretty much without a name. Anyway, dish the delish.

City of Hood River gets in hunt for Google broadband trial

24 Feb

Imagine a data pipe with about 100 times the capacity of what now feeds Internet content to your computer. Now, imagine it in Hood River. OK, now imagine every community in the country saying “Me, Me, Me, Pick me, puh-leeze, Mr. Google, pick Me!”

The City of Hood River — by way of city council vote — agreed to join the throngs rushing Google for a chance to pilot a proposed 1 gigabit fiber optic network. How much is 1 gigabit? Technically speaking, that’s a whole friggin’ pantload of gigas and bits. Like Kibbles & Bits, only different.

Dave Russell, who works for Summit Projects, told the council about the request for information at Monday night’s meeting. He articulated some of his visions for how such a huge data pipe could benefit the local economy. I found myself lying awake later that night, imagining my own apps. We now have no car dealership. Imagine a place where you could take a virtual tour of any car you wanted, in a surround screen environment? Imagine medical apps — remote diagnosis, for instance. Imagine education apps — college course content and real-time group collaboration — with everyone scattered miles apart, linked through their computer’s web cam.

Here’s a clip from the Google web site:

Google Fiber for Communities

Google is planning to launch an experiment that we hope will make Internet access better and faster for everyone. We plan to test ultra-high speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Our networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We’ll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

From now until March 26th, we’re asking interested municipalities to provide us with information about their communities through a Request for information (RFI), which we’ll use to determine where to build our network.

Downtown business poll shows 2 of 3 had better 2009 than 2008

21 Feb

Shortly before flying the coop for a month in Belize, I built a quick little poll on Zoomerang and aimed it at the downtown Hood River business community. Its aim: Ask business to compare sales during the often-critical holiday period (November & December) of 2009 with the same period in 2008. And, ask them to compare their overall business activity in 2009 with that in 2008. Here’s a summary of the results:

Sixty-two percent of downtown Hood River businesses responding to the online survey said they had better holiday sales in 2009 than in 2008. That compared with just 17 percent of respondents that said their holidays sales were worse than in the previous year.

Among those doing well, 28 percent of business respondents reported holiday sales up by more than 15 percent during the 2009 holidays.

Still, the positive seasonal sales numbers don’t mean things are rosy for everyone. Holiday sales may simply have helped swing the mood in a more positive direction, after a sluggish start to the year.

For whatever reason, optimism reigns. Of poll respondents, 70 percent said they were hopeful for better things in 2010, and another 27 percent said they were “neutral” – neither optimistic nor pessimistic about prospects in the coming year.

Asked to compare overall business activity during 2009 with 2008, 59 percent of respondents said it had been a better year, compared to 31 percent who said they had done worse than in 2008.

Of those reporting a decline in activity, eight businesses said sales in 2009 had declined by more than 5 percent compared to 2008.

The survey, created by Watson x 2 communications for the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, was distributed to 127 downtown businesses in late December 2009. Of those businesses, 26 percent responded. Several declined to take part, noting that their businesses aren’t tied to holiday gift-buying.

As the face of downtown has seen several changes during 2009, poll respondents are considering a number of options to boost or sustain business. Several businesses noted plans to add or shake up their product lines. Others plan to put more energy and money into marketing efforts, including use of social media such as facebook and expanding into other markets – The Dalles and Portland among them.

The survey used the free Zoomerang online polling utility.

A roundup of stray — but useful — stuff

19 Feb

New designer — print and web — in town? Well, new to me. Dorothy Bacchilega has been here four years, after relocating from Ventura, Calif., and does some nice work. Need a brochure, simple, easy-to-use web site, logo? Call her at 541-386-5803 after checking out work at her site … Small Planet Trading at 202 Cascade Ave. has added a frequent customer card to its arsenal. Co-owner DeLona Campos-Davis will give you a card, and every time you spend $10, you fill in one of 12 spots on the back, and when the card is full, you get 30% off your next purchase. Plus, each $10 purchase gets you entered for a $10 gift certificate drawing … Want a family or individual portrait that doesn’t look like something from NORCOR? Call Denise Rehse Watson at 541-436-2755 for some nice work. Check her portfolio out at Photosensitive Portraits … If you like to keep it local, and you need credit card processing payment services, call Brian Lauterbach at NXGEN Payment Services, in The Dalles, but at 503-858-5010 on the phone … Do you want tolearn more (I do) about the prospect of Google providing 1 gigabyte optic fiber connectivity — to YOUR HOME! OMG, I am SO there. (Sorry, I got a little carried away with myself). Anyway, I’ll try to report more here when I know it, but to hear it from the horse’s mouth, attend the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, to hear Dave Russell of Summit Projects talk about the experimental Google program, and how communities can apply to be among the first. O-M-G (I just love acting like an idiot, and I don’t even text).

Girls Night Out returns to downtown Hood River Feb. 17

15 Feb

To counter the gray skies and chill of winter, 21 downtown Hood River businesses will keep doors open and dish up a delicious array of specials and prize promotions to celebrate the second Girls Night Out of 2010.

The event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17. Unlike its more familiar and famous counterpart – First Friday – Girls Night Out is a bit quieter, more interior opportunity for women of all ages to tap into a variety of attractions aimed exclusively at their gender.

Participating businesses typically offer special activities or promotions. Restaurants, for example, are dishing up an array of discounts – 2-for-1 entrees at Celilo, 2-for-1 fish tacos and a free appetizer to tables of four (or more) women at Nora’s Table, and discounted margaritas at The Crazy Pepper.

Small Planet Trading features live music with Jan Hanlon-Wilde, Mary Lively at Flow Day Spa  will offer free Jane Iredale mineral makeovers after 6:30 p.m., and the mechanics at Discover Bicycles will provide a “quickie bike service clinic.”

Several stores are offering pricing discounts, some of which include 30 percent off counter jewelry at Silverado, 40 percent off fall and winter apparel at Melika, 50 percent off bar soap at Pacifica, and 25 percent off candy (what else?) at Candyland.

Stores are also offering a chance for visitors to enter a prize drawing. Just ask for a “passport” at any participating store, get it signed or stamped by at least four participating merchants, and your name will go into a drawing for prizes such as a Pacifica Gift Set, a free bicycle tuneup, a gift certificate for two dinners at the Crazy Pepper, a $15 gift card at 6th Street Bistro, a teddy bear from The Enchanted Alpaca, and a chocolate lover’s basket at Small Planet Trading.

“It’s a great opportunity for the ladies to come out, see their friends, socialize, check out some deals and go home happy that spring is just a month away,” says Greg Colt, president of the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Business Council.