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Surviving the recovery

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Thursday, October 22, 2009
Managing editor Ben Jacklet spent two weeks immersed in rural Oregon’s timber towns to investigate how these communities, once buoyed by abundant wood product operations, would reinvent themselves to survive. The story states the salient issue: “These towns are left with an unenviable choice: diversify or die. Only how?”

In this special report that begins on page 26, Trouble in Timber Town, Jacklet finds the answers as varied as the towns themselves. But from Prineville to Oakridge, to Roseburg and on out to Burns-Hines, the thing that holds true for all of them is that the future is surely in the hands of the local private and public sector entrepreneurs — those folks who won’t and don’t give up.

That same unsinkable attitude was evident when three members of the Portland chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) came visiting a few weeks ago. The EO has 69 members whose companies have an average of 28 employees and about $6 million in revenue. Classic small to medium businesses that are the backbone of Oregon’s economy.

JD Elder, the president of the local chapter, knows something about hard times. He owns Elder Demolition, which has been walloped by the housing industry collapse; his revenues have shrunk from $7 million to $3 million. The biggest issue facing him and most of his colleagues is that banks “are cutting us off at the knees.” Bank lines are being reduced and certain sectors, like construction, “have just been cut loose.”

Elder’s assessment is true nationally. A recent story from Reuters reported, “Small companies create more than half of America’s jobs, but the entrepreneurs who drive this part of the economy continue to complain that access to credit two years into the recession is scarce.” And according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Board, most banks will keep their lending standards tight until at least the middle of 2010.

But despite that challenge and more, you can’t keep a good entrepreneur down. Bryan Howe, CEO and founder of MasterPlans.com, a company that writes business plans for entrepreneurs seeking funding, says business has dropped by 30% since last year. But even though business is off, Howe sees more optimism in clients this year.

“I don’t hear about anyone throwing in the towel and going back to work for someone else,” says Jill Nelson, CEO of Ruby Receptionists, which provides virtual receptionists to companies. “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.”

It will be entrepreneurs like these — from the big city or the small town — and the employment they provide that is the key to reclaiming a healthy economy.

Jobless recovery? Let’s not kid ourselves, or at least, let’s not buy into the label that local and national economists are using. It isn’t a recovery until the jobs come back.

Robin Doussard
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