Sometimes my architect’s eye picks up details of our built environment that become relevant later. Cycling through Oregon I noticed many more roof vents on new houses had than I’ve seen in other areas. I figured local building codes required high ventilation levels. Then I met Neil Smith, Owner of Airscape, a company that manufactures programmable, quiet, and energy efficient whole house fans that accommodate Oregon’s stringent requirements. “California has changed its energy code to require whole house fans in certain regions as well. That’s good for us, but not as good as it might seem. The changes only apply to new construction.”
Neil is a small business owner – Airscape has fifteen employees, one location and $6 million in sales – holding his own against some larger competitors by making high quality products and selling related components online. “We offer fully sealed closing doors when the fan’s not in use. That’s an energy saver.”
Neil toured me through his operation and showed off his latest improvement, a large-scale CNC punch. “Last year I spent $550,000 in equipment. This year I want to invest in people. If we grow to be a $10 million company the staff doesn’t have to grow in a linear way.” But along the way, his philosophical diversions proved to be as interesting as his fabricating shop.
“I used to only distribute stuff, now I make it. When you make something, you live it. That makes it more important and rewarding.
“What do you do when you have everything? You worry about what you can lose.
“I think we’ve had an artificial Middle Class, put in place by the prosperity of the last century, as opposed to good habits.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I really don’t know the answer. I can tell you for sure it won’t be this way. Nobody is happy following the American experience. That’s why they come to Ashland, to get away from the rat race.
“What scares me most is our libertarian streak. Have you been to Silicon Valley? For once, engineers and technocrats have power. They are in control now and are worse than anybody.
“We are set up to recognize fast moving danger, but we’re blind to slow danger. It’s a blatant defect in our programming. I will stop worrying when my children start worrying. We need to be engaged. In the Army, at my work, we have comrades. They are tighter than friends. We have moved from the positive aspects of unions to the protectiveness of guilds. They skew our perspectives on the individual by protecting the few.
“Money is the only free speech we have. Politicians use our money to get us to like them. We are a nation of myths. We are so caught up in being sold things, it’s as if our brains short circuit to advertising.”