Fly-In success has organizers’ spirits soaring

Secretive event urged CEOs to relocate or invest here

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Last weekend’s regional Fly-In, including its gala dinner Saturday at Pearson Field, was a success in marketing the Portland-Vancouver area to 14 business executives and investors, according to event sponsor Greater Portland Inc.

“Honestly, honestly, we could not be more delighted,” said Susan Bladholm, marketing vice president for the privately funded economic development organization. “The meetings were very meaningful, and I understand some deals are being made.”

The 14 guests represented 10 companies or investors who have some interest in locating, expanding or investing in businesses in the region, Bladholm said. The weekend events, including the dinner at Pearson Airfield that drew 240 guests, were shrouded in secrecy out of concern that some corporate executives would not want public attention about their interest in the region.

But Bladholm did name two participants: Andy Clapper, executive vice president of Welch Allyn, a New York-based medical device manufacturer with operations in Beaverton, Ore.; and Shea DiDonna, a vice president and founding member of True Ventures, a Bay Area venture capital firm. True Ventures has helped finance Puppet Labs, a Portland-based startup that creates tools for internet technology management.

Itineraries were customized to suit the interests of guests, with local business leaders taking some visitors on air tours above Mount St. Helens and the Columbia River Gorge and to golf outings at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the southern Oregon Coast. The Saturday evening dinner and social event at Pearson Field was the weekend’s major event in Clark County, financed through some $40,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from the county’s business community, Bladholm said. Beaches Restaurant hosted the meal at the airfield’s air museum.

Beaches owner Mark Matthias said the Fly-In was “a well-coordinated event.”

“We got in some great CEOs and were able to show them the positives from our region,” said Matthias, who also assisted at a Friday dinner in Portland. “The vibe and energy were definitely there.”

The Fly-In, an outgrowth of Clark County’s Land Here, Live Here promotional campaign, was financed through some $88,000 in private contributions. Experienced business recruiters questioned the wisdom of trying to court 15 companies at a single event, since such recruitment efforts typically are focused on four or five companies at a time, Bladholm said.

“A lot of people said it can’t be done,” she said. “I’m glad we did it our own way.”