Columbia Sportswear CEO Addresses Oregon’s Economic Challenges

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Tim Boyle, president and chief officer of Columbia Sportswear Company was recently in Bend to address the 2012 Central Oregon Forecast produced by the California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research and Forecasting.  Boyle emphasized investing in higher education to support current businesses and entrepreneurs in creating a new economy.  

Boyle has served as president and chief executive officer of the well-known Oregon company since 1989.  He’s the first to admit the challenges the company faced were daunting when he joined the business in 1971 after his father passed. They made every mistake in the book he reported.  The bank was calling in a note and demanded the business be sold.   When the only offer was $1,400 Boyle’s mother and chair of the board, Gertrude Boyle, made the decision, “We can drive this into the ground ourselves!”  

With the help of an advisory board, they decided to take on the Nike business model. That model focuses on designing and marketing from Portland and expanding domestically and then globally utilizing the talents that exist here in Oregon and the markets that exist across the world.  

While the specific growth figures are being announced at month’s end; Boyle did offer that the company has conducted over $1.5 billion in sales worldwide; 53 percent of those sales come from the U.S.  Asia is a growing market for them due to the passion the Asians have for American brands,  for that reason being an Oregon headquartered company has been a very valuable asset.

Boyle shared that while business is flourishing in Oregon with native companies such as Columbia, Nike and Deschutes Brewery, the tax system as well as the state’s infrastructure is not supportive of attracting developing or established businesses.

Boyle stated if we are going to grow businesses with entrepreneurs it begins with our higher educational system.  In his opinion, “In Oregon the higher education institutions are wards of the state.”

He shared figures that showed higher education was the only program to see an actual decrease in state appropriations over the past ten years.  On the other hand the prison system had a budget of $377 million in 1995 and currently the budget is $1.4 billon.   Boyle added, “this tells you Oregon is a great place to grow up if you plan to be incarcerated.”  

Boyle suggested changing the governing system in higher education to free the institutions from spending a third of their time in Salem begging for funding.  Columbia Sportswear has been hiring product development personnel and designers from around the world including schools like University of Cleveland and would prefer to hire from here.  In that effort they have been investing in University of Oregon’s product development program as well as other higher education programs.  

Boyle doesn’t see manufacturing coming back to the western hemisphere because of the lack of infrastructure and talent. He suggested that Columbia investments in the future will be outside of the U.S.  Over the next several years they will be expanding operations in England and other parts of the world while expanding creative talent in the U.S.   

The U.S. corporate tax structure has an effect on the business and requires the holding of large quantities of cash outside of the country to be competitive in the world market.  Boyle believes the tax rate should be looked at and there should be opportunities to bring the monies back.  

Eighteen months ago they made a significant investment in their website to educate consumers on their products and began selling from the site.  The site volume has tripled creating more consumer demand.  

Boyle is optimistic for the future with new technologies that continue to make Columbia Sportswear Company a great Oregon company.  

Elizabeth Ueland, International Sourcing Agent.

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