dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Uncle Phil Should Adopt the Eugene Airport

December 17th, 2018 by dk

Phil Knight has always been an innovator. He and his coach Bill Bowerman recognized that competitive athletes were underdressed. His Stanford studies reimagined how international trade drives American consumer goods. He pioneered branding on merchandise that others considered disposable.

As his philanthropy matured, his business acumen identified spots where incremental improvement couldn’t compete with a surge of investment. Indoor practice facilities cannot grow a little bit at a time. You have to build it all at once. It’s better to completely reinvent athletes’ conditioning facilities than to make a few improvements here and there — likewise with their academic assistance center.

After each leap forward, Knight has watched in his rearview mirror how other companies and other schools scurry to avoid being left behind. Knight is more than ahead — his moves often define the curve that follows. Knight’s imitators outnumber his company’s sneaker styles.

His latest and largest local investment boldly inserts its strategy into its name. The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact will confirm what all of the earlier experiments hypothesized. Some changes occur quickly or they don’t occur at all. A large investment, quickly implemented, can make the impossible possible.

But “Uncle Phil” has a problem. His remaining years are diminishing faster than the largesse he seems determined to distribute. As the richest Oregonian ever, he wants to do what others cannot.

Where else can he exert that singular impact that has satisfied him so well for decades? His vision has widened in recent years from improving Duck athletics. His current vision is a billion-dollar bet on remaking the University of Oregon, and you would be well advised not to wager against it. Knight’s investments have produced an impressive track record. Or, in the case of athletes who benefited, many impressive track records.

As his vision widens, Knight should focus on the Eugene Airport. A large cash infusion would make a qualitative difference for the airport’s trajectory — something more than what time and attention will naturally produce. Growing the airport would benefit everything around it, including the Ducks.

Twice the airport has pursued a contractor to build an adjacent conference hotel. It doesn’t pencil out. We can be confident that it will eventually, except there are dozens of other mid-sized urban centers running in the same lane, jockeying for advantage when the next curve in the economy resets the competitive field.

Airport officials speculate that we could have direct flights to Chicago by 2025, but nobody wants to guess any growth beyond that. Our future would be brighter if we didn’t have to wait for it.

For those who object that air transportation is too regulated for an entrepreneur’s flair, I would remind them that we used to think that about a state’s flagship research university.

Knight’s philanthropic passion seldom strays far from his beloved Ducks, but an improved airport would help the teams and fans in unexpected ways. Women’s Basketball Coach Kelly Graves told supporters this week how hard it is to schedule non-conference home games. “It’s just hard to get here,” he said with a shrug, as if nothing can be done about that.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.