Spring Break: Adventures in the Disruptive Economy

Last week was Spring Break for my kids, which we spent exploring Portland, Oregon. PortlandPortland, Oregon?

Not exactly a prime spring break destination for Texans. You end up in Portland when you let teenagers who are in to vintage clothes and custom longboards select the vacation destination. My husband and I went in to the trip with a plan to be adventurous and flexible – also helpful traits when one is travelling with teenagers. Portland, and the teenagers, did not disappoint.

The coolest part of the trip was being embedded in the new, disruptive economy that is emerging as micro-businesses and small-scale entrepreneurship take off. If the Nelson Family’s spring break adventures in Portland are any indicator, people and communities are embracing a changing economy and appreciating closer connections to the services and products they use.


Earn income from surplus space. At the recommendation of my millennial cousin, we booked a place to stay on airbnb. Our basement apartment had many of the same amenities of a hotel, such as free Wi-Fi, clean towels and a coffee maker, but at half the cost, with no parking fees, and in a location better suited for a hipster-wanna-be family. We got to meet our host, who supplied us with the house blend of coffee and descriptions of nearby restaurants and shops, and warned us about the noise from the college students living upstairs.

  • PREDICTION: I am not ready to turn in my hotel points memberships, but will definitely use Airbnb again. In fact, as my husband and I dream about building a house for retirement, we might even add a small apartment to the plan that we can rent out to help offset the building costs.

Know where your stuff comes from. I was amazed at the number of sole proprietor businesses in Portland that feature locally made and grown items and ingredients. And they were all PACKED with shoppers and diners, even in the middle of the week. Our carry-on bags could never hold all the beautiful things we found, so we came away with names and websites for blacksmiths (belt buckles and hooks), glass blowers (wine glasses), furniture makers (coffee table) and woodsmiths (serving pieces). One souvenir we did bring home with us is a deck of cards by local artist Aaron Voronoff Trotter, who we met on our first day. Aaron hand-draws the scenes for his Portland Landmarks deck, which we used as our guidebook for the week (my husband is still wishing we had bought the Portland Breweries deck).

  • PREDICTION: Target, Wal-Mart and other outlets for mass produced good are not going anywhere, however we will keeping heading to Radish Underground, Boy’s Fort, Carlyn Galerie and similar venues for locally and U.S.A.-made goods when we need them.

Build it / make it yourself. Whether it be beer, boats or bike-generators, people are bringing ideas to life – and products to market – in a BYO (Build Your Own) way. This is called the Maker Movement, and it is impacting everything from middle school geometry projects – where students learn engineering skills by building Egyptian pyramids from handmade blocks – to preventing infant deaths in remote areas of the world. I first became interested in the Maker Movement from watching Mark Hatch speak at TedxYouth about TechShop, which provides access to equipment and expertise to make almost anything. While in Portland, we visited a smaller-scale “maker space” called ADX, where Portlandians are building boats, furniture, surfboards, and signage for local businesses. My son’s school recently joined the Maker Movement by replacing the annual science fair with an “invention convention.”

  • PREDICTION: When you son asks for a 3D printer instead of a cellphone, you know you have officially joined the Maker Movement. Enroll that boy in CAD and shop classes soon!

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. She is an avid supporter of local craft breweries in Portland, Michigan and Dallas. You can reach her at hnelson@www.people-results.com or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.

Image Artwork: Aaron Voronoff Trotter