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Marketing Metro Portland

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Portland business leaders are raising money for a marketing organization that will represent the entire Portland Metro region — and sell it as a good place to set up shop.

PORTLAND — If the checks are collected — or at least promised — according to plan, a new private sector-backed marketing and economic development organization will launch early next year with a focus on selling the greater Portland region as the place to be for business.

It’s about time.

So says Jim Mark, CEO of Melvin Mark Companies, who’s been working on this effort for about four years.

So says Thomas Morr, CEO of Select Greater Philadelphia, a privately funded 11-county regional marketing group on the East Coast.

And so says Ron Fox, the new CEO of SOREDI, a 20-year-old private nonprofit economic development organization in Southern Oregon.

“If you look at what Oregon is doing to market itself to businesses, the hole in the doughnut is the Portland Metro area,” Fox says. “With this effort, they’re catching up to us.”

And with talk getting louder all the time about how regions need to get together to compete for business on a global scale, the Portland effort — its clumsy, must-change working name is the Four County Economic Development Corp. — will have to make up for lost time.

When the headquarters of Louisiana Pacific moved from Portland to Nashville in 2003, Portland business leaders caught wind of a full-court press by Nashville CEOs who helped win the relocation by wining and dining LP execs.

A handful of Portland business leaders started asking each other how they could get involved in business recruitment. Jim Mark’s answer was to raise money for something he called the Campaign for Greater Portland. He pulled together $160,000, but his effort to set up a business-led marketing push fizzled without a specific plan about how the group would work with government-led economic development efforts.

But with the unveiling in January of the Greater Portland Regional Business Plan, a four-county effort that underscored the need for better marketing of the entire region, Mark saw an opportunity to revive his campaign. Over coffee, he cornered Andy MacRitchie, a former PacifiCorp executive, and asked him to help get a new business-driven marketing organization off the ground.

In September, 50 regional business leaders met over dinner to hear the pitch: A private sector-backed marketing effort is paramount to the Portland region’s success as a place to do business. They heard from Morr, who leads a similar-styled group in Philadelphia that unites a metro region, divided by rivers that sprawls across state and county lines. Sound familiar?

Banding together to market an entire region — in this case Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties in Oregon and Clark County, Wash. — to an international audience carries more heft than individual city and county efforts could muster, Morr says. “And having business people as part of your sales force is very credible.”

The Four County Economic Development Corp.’s plan calls for commitments from individual businesses to the tune of a $1.5 million annual budget — at least $750,000 to get started. That will buy a marketing campaign, a full-time executive director and at least two full-time recruiters, people whose jobs it will be to find businesses to move here.

The idea is to recruit new businesses by calling on suppliers to existing Portland-area businesses and asking them: Why not move to Portland?

What the group won’t do, Mark says, is get involved in lobbying, policy change or taking any stand on Oregon’s age-old tax issue. Nor will it indulge the Portland business community’s predilection for belly-aching. “Our role will be promoting what we have,” Mark says. “You would never sell an office building by talking about its negatives.”

The plan calls for a pay-to-play model where businesses that contribute the most money to the effort get seats on the board, but Mark says there will be a way for smaller businesses, especially technology startups who can’t afford to write the big checks, to be involved in the marketing and recruiting effort.  

Randy Miller says the Portland Ambassadors program he leads, which works directly with the PDC on economic development, will become part of the new Four County effort. “You’ve always got to be looking for the next generation of jobs,” Miller says. “You can’t lay back.”

Mark Rosenbaum, PDC chairman, will look to the new group to complement the PDC’s limited economic development resources by doing some legwork in identifying companies that might be interested in moving to the area and helping woo target businesses. “If we can get the broad business community to assist in marketing and direct business-to-business recruiting and identifying potential leads, that dramatically leverages our results.”

It’s what other groups including SOREDI; SEDCOR, the private nonprofit economic development group for Polk and Marion counties; and EDCO, the three-county Economic Development for Central Oregon effort, have been doing for many years.

Roger Lee, executive director of EDCO, says his group started 25 years ago with the understanding that Central Oregon had to market itself or fall behind. “Now we have the lowest unemployment rate anywhere in Oregon,” Lee says.

In other words: Welcome to the race, Portland Metro.

— Christina Williams

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