Why Chris Harder's move from the Portland Development Commission to head up Business Oregon is good for startups and inclusion

We’ve seen a lot during this last decade of the Portland startup scene. A great deal of it has to do with the hard work of founders, investors, and startups, striving every day to make Portland a better place to build, sustain, and exit from companies. But there, waiting in the wings for the last five years, has been another presence that’s helped orchestrate key measures and activities that have pushed our startup scene forward.

That entity has the Portland Development Commission. And the person often on the front line? It’s been a guy named Chris Harder.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chris on any number of pursuits. From simply highlighting what’s happening in Portland to advising on strategies for keeping the City moving forward to working on projects like the Portland Seed Fund, the Startup PDX Challenge, and the Portland Inclusive Startup Fund.

And now, Chris is moving on from his role at the PDC to head up Business Oregon, taking over the spot vacated by Sean Robbins, last year.


“I’m excited to bring Chris on board to help continue Oregon’s economic momentum,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown. “Chris’ leadership experience will ensure the state’s economic development strategy represents and serves a diverse array of business interests, urban and rural.”

What’s Business Oregon, you ask? Think PDC at the state level.

The Business Oregon Commission oversees the agency’s activities to ensure a coherent, integrated approach to economic development and a continuous policy direction that can transcend changes in executive and legislative leadership.

So why am I so tail waggy about this? Well, for one thing, I think it’s a momentous step forward for our state. And yet another step forward in the transition of our Oregon government and agencies from industries that have historically defined our state to the industries that will carry Oregon into a prosperous future.

For another, it’s an opportunity to test what has worked on a micro level and see if it works on a macro level. During Chris’ tenure, the PDC took some risks and got creative with the ways they supported, accelerated, and recognized startups in Portland—and their significance to the overall health of our city. I have no doubt he will bring these learnings to our state and make similar in-roads on a much larger scale.

What’s more, the move teams Chris with another former Portland startup scene proponent, Vince Porter, who, before joining the governor’s team, headed up Oregon Film and cofounded Oregon Story Board, an early stage startup accelerator focused on digital storytelling. (Fun fact: Oregon Story Board was funded by Business Oregon through its OregonInC program.)

Long story short, this is good news for startups throughout the State of Oregon. I can say—with confidence—that Chris gets startups. He gets inclusion. He knows when to listen. And he knows how to get things done. Best of all, he understands—taking a page from Brad Feld‘s Startup Communities—that entrepreneurs have to lead the way. And government has to be ready to jump in to support. This is definitely a win for all startups. And a win for Oregon.

I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

For more on the appointment, see The Oregonian and Portland Business Journal articles. For more information on the organization, visit Business Oregon.

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