Originally created 12/22/99

City leaders hope a 'dot-com' can rescue Halfway, Ore.



PORTLAND, Ore. -- Halfway needs a whole lot of help: Businesses are leaving. Logging is virtually dead. The gold mines closed long ago.

An entrepreneur from Philadelphia has a plan to save Halfway, a hard-luck community of 365 people. The idea is to rename the northeastern Oregon town to Half.com, which happens to be the name of the businessman's online commerce startup.

The Halfway City Council is hoping to get a lot of publicity and tourists by becoming the first city with ".com" attached to its name. The entrepreneur is hoping the publicity will flood his Web site with business.

"We have a slump," said city planner Patti Huff. "Half.com is our ticket to where we need to be."

Last week, the seven-member council voted unanimously to enter into final negotiations with Half.com for the name change.

Joshua Kopelman, the 28-year-old president of Half.com, has proffered several incentives to entice the people of Halfway, including offering Halfway residents stock options in Half.com.

"There are a lot of possibilities for helping the town, for helping their economy," Kopelman said in a telephone interview from his office in suburban Conshohocken, Pa.

Kopelman has also suggested holding a raffle at the local Baker County fair with his company paying off half the mortgage of the winner.

"Did we do this to get attention? Sure we did," he said. "But there's also a benefit for the town economy."

Surrounded by snow-covered mountains and streams, Halfway might seem like paradise. But the boom-and-bust cycles of Western industry have ravaged Halfway's economy.

Halfway was founded in the early 1800s at a spot near the Idaho line midway between the towns of Pine and Cornucopia -- hence Halfway's name.

It has survived the decline of mining, logging and ranching -- barely.

"Businesses on main street are closing down," said Huff. "We need some cottage industry."

Enter Kopelman.

He wanted to create an Internet commerce site where he would connect sellers with buyers -- each representing half the deal. That's about as detailed as he's willing to get until the business is up and running next month.

Kopelman has startup experience. Eight years ago, he co-founded Infonautics Inc., an Internet research service based in Wayne, Pa. The company's stock has languished on Wall Street, but its Company Sleuth Web research service, introduced last year, is popular with investors.

He is leaving Infonautics at the end of the year to devote himself -- full time -- to Half.com.

Kopelman decided a unique way to promote the new online business would be for some town with the word "half" in its name to adopt the name Half.com. While searching the Web for candidates, he spotted Halfway.

When Kopelman sent someone from his company to Halfway to broach the idea, residents were suspicious. The council eventually was persuaded that Halfway and Half.com were made for each other.

Before Halfway becomes Half.com, the city council wants to see what kind of services Kopelman's Web site will offer when it is launched next month.

"We're not going to sign until we see what the product is going to be," said Huff.

Still, she added: "We have to do it. We really don't have much choice."