Former eBay CEO governor of California?

ebay_sm_imageMeg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor, setting the stage for a race that includes other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, former Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown and a cast of characters.

The terminator terms out in 2010.

Whitman, who will run as a Republican, has no political experience. I’ve met and interviewed her: She did a good job getting eBay up and running but wasn’t as successful as time wore on.

Memories are short, but I remember she upset a lot of eBay loyalists by making a public run for the CEO job of Walt Disney in 2005 that went to insider Robert Iger instead. Whitman recommitted herself to eBay, but workers and analysts were skeptical.

The stock of eBay soared under Whitman, but she also made missteps, such as an ill-fated multi-billion acquisition of Internet phone call service Skype.

Whitman retired from eBay in March as a billionaire. 

Whitman’s GOP opponent is expected to be another  wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Steve Poizner.

Whitman stands a good chance in light of our financial problems.

Besides, if California’s fortunes don’t improve soon, her experience can come in handy: you know, auction off the state’s assets on eBay.

Open Energy to close Grass Valley facility

Open Energy, a solar power stalwart, plans to close its Grass Valley facility by late March, cutting about 15 jobs, according to my sources.

Long known as Open Energy, the San Diego area-based company changed its name to Applied Solar in January.

Though merchants in the historic downtowns of Grass Valley and Nevada City are generating a lot of attention, too little has been said about the plight of businesses in the less visible Whispering Pines and Loma Rica business districts — a major engine of local economic growth.

For example, Benchmark Thermal, in the Loma Rica business park, has sharply cut its workforce. About 30 people work at Benchmark now, compared with 50 in late 2007. The company still is plugging along, however.

Both Open Energy and Benchmark have been honored by the county Economic Resource Council and other business and civic leaders.

Open Energy’s manufacturing facility employed about 40 people a year ago. The company designs and makes solar systems for commercial, industrial and residential projects. It specializes in solar panels that have a more natural look than many competitor’s models.

Open Energy is based in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego.

Newspapers need to emulate

As I mentioned in an earlier post, newspaper Web sites need to provide more unique content that can’t be found in print — and monetize it.

A great example is, a Web site that maps how people voted on Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage initiative, in California. The Web site uses zip codes and names of people who contributed to the measure — all public information — and puts it on the Web site.

Here’s a good writeup of the site in this morning’s New York Times.

Around here, this could easily be done for all the local ballot measures and campaigns for supervisor, NID and others. It’s a “no brainer” feature for a ballot measure on whether to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine, a likely scenario down the road.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see where the donors live? As I’ve said before, many of them don’t even live in the city or district being impacted — a characteristic of our local political landscape. An interactive map would clearly show that.

It’ll take more innovation and newsroom resources, however — and contextual advertising to support it. Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. For now, newspapers are caught in the “big oven.”

ERC releases draft plan for county growth

At its monthly meeting four days ago, the county Economic Resource Council released a draft of its new master plan, outlining short- and long-term goals and a matrix to measure its success.

I have a healthy interest in our county’s economic development — such as attracting more families and higher-paying private sector jobs — so I asked for a copy of the report from the public meeting. I also promised to provide some feedback.

The 20-page document is the economic-development group’s boldest step yet to state specific goals and hold itself accountable for the results, and I hope it gets some publicity. The majority of the group’s $165,000 annual budget comes from the the county, and cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City.

The master plan is being prepared for the county board of supervisors.

Here’s some highlights:

•Short term goals (zero to two years): Scout existing employers for compatible companies that would make good neighbors. Site interviews with existing employers to help build their businesses. Continue a “bring them home” campaign to help encourage high-school graduates to stay here.

Also partner with schools and Sierra College to improve workforce training. Work to increase workforce housing. Community development to educate the community about economics.

•Long term goals (two to five years): Create incentives to attract, such as fast track planning and permitting. Create a business incubator. Strengthen funding resources with a “venture fund.”

Also ensure sufficient land, infrastructure and services to attract companies who desire buildings of 40,000 square feet and up. The report also argues for increasing the ERC’s staff size from just 1.5 positions at present.

I also was pleased to see the ERC wants to target “low energy user,” “low infrastructure impact” and “clean or green friendly” businesses, among others. ERC officials also will attend a medical device and manfacturing conference and others.

No mention was made of attracting mining businesses, but it will come up later.

After a passionate discussion, the ERC will support the Idaho-Maryland mine project by summertime, I predict. But it won’t be a slam dunk, as the growth initiative was. For example, groups such as real estate agents, which are represented on the ERC board, are divided on the issue.

I’m pleased the ERC’s master plan highlighted some real barriers to growth — not being on a major transportation artery, a lack of adequate infrastructure and the lack of fibre-optic cable. 

Under a section “what gets measured gets done,” the report also lists a matrix that will measure the actions and successes of the ERC each year.

Too often our government-funded economic-related groups — I’m thinking of our myriad chambers and their boards — are not held accountable enough by the funding providers. Why not? Gadzooks.

I was glad to see an effort to get Truckee more involved in the group, including providing more money. We don’t do a very good job of embracing the eastern county around here.

In short, it is a thoughtful plan for “smart” growth in our county, with a plan to hold the ERC accountable for helping to execute it. 

Since this is just the draft version, keep in mind that it might change. I suspect the general focus of what I’ve discussed here won’t change much, if at all, though.

A copy of the draft plan is here.

A hunting we will go — for milk money!

Boy, times are tough. This morning I saw a guy at Gold Run School in Nevada City methodically walking across the playground with a metal detector.

Maybe he figured he’d find some poor kid’s milk money.

As it turns out, he’s not alone.

“With this draining economy, record job losses and a hot mess in Congress contemplating almost a $1 trillion stimulus package (or bail out depending on your view), who couldn’t use some extra cash?” according to an article in Digital City this week.

“There’s millions and millions, maybe even billions of dollars, in buried treasure throughout America just waiting for someone with a Radio Shack metal detector to come along.”

“Treasure hunting may pick up in popularity in the recent months as more people are cash-strapped with extra time, but let’s hope the fever pitch never allows a repeat of Geraldo Rivera’s televised treasurrific failure of The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.'”

“Coin shooting” is the term used by metal detector buffs to describe searching for coins that may have fallen after an event — or on the playground.

Rest in peace, Silicon Valley legend Mike Homer

images7Journalists like to joke that they don’t have friends, just sources. 

Sometimes you can have both: So it goes with Mike Homer, a pioneer in Silicon Valley and fellow Cal grad. Homer, 50, died Sunday of a rare neurodegenerative disorder.

Knowing of his condition has disturbed me for months. He was married with three children.

Homer worked at Apple in the early days, and he later helped innovate Web browsing at Netscape. He was instrumental in the browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft, one of the biggest business stories in the ’90s. It led to the antitrust charges against Microsoft, still a reverberating issue.

I got to know Mike well when I was the chief technology writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the editor of CNET.

We’d meet for coffee, and he helped me piece together many important stories, including Apple’s beyond-the-PC strategy (which turned out to be spot on). Once I remember missing lunch (and breakfast) to make an appointment with him: He sat in his office during the discussion, eating a burrito.

Mike was smart and tenacious.

We shared stories about our places at Tahoe and our mutual frustration of no high-speed Internet access to the West Shore. His solution: bring a T1 line to his home. (Since then, DLS and cable-modem Net access was introduced).

“He had seen everything from gigantic success to hugh challenges and blowups,” Netscape co-founder marc Andreessen told The New York Times.

We’ll miss you Mike.

(photo courtesy of UC Berkeley)

Doctor, staff shortage hits new Chapa-De facility

With the economy in ruins, it’s uplifting to drive by the brand-spanking-new Chapa-De medical facility in Grass Valley.

Trouble is, they’re suffering from the ongoing shortage of doctors and medical personnel — just like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

Chapa-De is seeking a full-time family practice physician and family nurse practitioner for the Grass Valley facility, according to the U.S. Indian Health Service.

Other openings are for dental receptionist and records clerk, according to the agency.

In some cases, the problem is creating a patient backlog, I’m hearing.

This is an ongoing concern around here: an aging population and a shortage of medical personnel.

Many nursing facilities hospitals in the area also are short on staff.

Yoo hoo! Hello!. Don’t you think it’s time we diversify our economy beyond retirees and tourism?