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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

The Experiment

A fourth-grade class had a science experiment where 4 earthworms are placed in four separate test tubes: 1st in beer, 2nd in wine, 3rd in whiskey, 4th in mineral water

The next day, the teacher shows the results: The 1st worm in beer, is dead. The 2nd in wine, is dead. The 3rd in whiskey, is also dead. But the 4th in mineral water is alive and healthy.

The teacher asks the class, “What do we learn from this experiment?” A child responds, “Whoever drinks beer, wine and whiskey, will not get a worm infection.”

 

Gertrude was born March 6, 1924 in Augsburg, Germany to a Jewish family. Her mother Marie was a nurse and her father Paul owned and ran a shirt factory in until it was seized by the government. In 1937, when she was 13, her family fled Nazi Germany and immigrated to Portland, Oregon. Gertrude’s grandmother who stayed behind died in a concentration camp. When Gertrude arrived, she did not speak a word of English. A year after arriving in 1938, her father borrowed money from a relative and purchased the Rosenfeld Hat Company.  She attended Grant High School in Portland and later graduated with a B.A. in sociology from the University of Arizona.

In 1948, she married Joseph Cornelius “Neal” Boyle, whom she met in college. They had three children: Timothy Boyle (born 1949); Kathy Boyle (born 1952); and Sally Boyle (born 1958). In 1964, Gertrude’s father died and her husband became president of Rosenfeld Hat Company; they diversified the business into outerwear for hunters, fishermen, and skiers. In 1960, Gertrude designed the first fishing vest (her husband was an avid fisherman).

In 1970, Neal died at the age of 47; and Gertrude became president of the company, then with $800,000 in annual sales. The company struggled and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy into the early 1970s.  She and her son Timothy were once again forced into refocusing the business to outdoor clothing and casual wear which paralleled a general trend away from formal work attire. In 1975, they were the first company to introduce Gore-Tex parkas. Gertrude started starring in commercials for the company in 1984. In the ads she stars as Ma Boyle, who is “One Tough Mother” and uses her son as a test dummy for new products.  In 1986, they released the Bugaboo, a jacket with a zip out lining which became quite trendy and further propelled the company’s growth.

From the meager beginnings of escaping Nazi Germany, scraping together money to purchase the Rosenfeld Hat Company, reinventing it into the Columbia Hat Company (named after the river) then again pivoting the business into what is now Columbia Sportswear. Columbia had $18.8 million in sales in 1987 and by 1997 it had grown to $353.5 million. The company went public in 1998.

Gertrude’s amazing story proves yet again what a great country we live in. I believe that there is still room for many more “Gertrudes” who are industrious, innovative and entrepreneurial. All of us currently have this freedom; however, this will only happen if we, as individuals, will work hard, are willing to pivot, and relentlessly chase the American Dream.

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