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On The Scene: Growing up vs. growing out

Helvetia is a quaint community just a few miles west of Portland, whose Swiss-settler roots are reflected in its simplicity. Often nicknamed "Intel's playground," Helvetia draws cyclists and runners from the metro area while bringing in more than 100,000 visitors a year with agri-tourism businesses like wineries and pumpkin patches. And with a number of working farms, it's a regional and statewide resource — and residents would like to keep it that way.

The fate of the community was among the topics of discussion at a debate earlier this week sponsored by Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Forest Grove News-Times. The forum, taped at the Hillsboro Civic Center for OPB's "Think Out Loud" program, featured Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Washington County Chair Tom Brian discussing the pros and cons of expanding the Urban Growth Boundary in Washington County.

Metro and representatives from the three Portland-area counties are gearing up to decide whether to expand the UGB and what land to set aside as urban reserves for possible future development. A resident of Helvetia was at the forum expressing her concerns about the community being included in the urban reserves; now it seems only part of Helvetia is on the table for inclusion, but residents are now worried about Helvetia being split. But judging from the sound bites collected by OPB, Washington County residents generally have mixed views about the overall region growing up vs. growing out.

On The Scene: Portland pedals forward

Like craft beer, rich coffee and innovative public transportation, bicycling stands out as quintessentially Portland. An ironic trait given where Portlanders actually live, yet the bike business has managed to boom over the past few years. “It’s not like this town is made for cycling,” says Chris Di Stefano, director of marketing for Chris King Precision Components. “It’s not flat here and the weather is not kind. It really is the spirit of the people, and in this case, the spirit of businesspeople."

Di Stefano was one of six local industry panelists at an American Marketing Association luncheon this week in Northeast Portland. The discussion was centered on the city’s increasingly popular bike culture, what makes Portland a major hub and how all kinds of businesses can capitalize on the ever-growing market.

There’s no question Portland has established itself as a national leader in bike-friendliness, but the world is taking notice, too. “I moved here six years ago [for] the promise of what Portland was becoming, and the more I travel around the country and around the world for cycling, everyone wants to talk about Portland,” Di Stefano says. And he says the local industry’s extraordinary growth over the past five years has as much to do with straight-up biking businesses (manufacturers, parts retailers, etc.) as with bike-related services, such as panelist Charlie Wicker’s Trailhead Coffee Roasters, which delivers coffee throughout the Portland area on bike.

On The Scene: Marketing with spirit

To most people, cheerleading and marketing don't often go hand-in-hand, other than using pep rallies and bake sales to promote the high school team. Which could be why it was so interesting to hear Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director Kelli Finglass talk about how she built the cheer team – first conceived simply as an outreach arm for the Cowboys – into a world-famous business brand that sells everything from throw blankets to yoga DVDs.

Finglass spoke at a luncheon this week for the local American Marketing Association chapter, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Northeast Portland. Finglass herself was a Cowboys cheerleader from 1984 to 1989; she was eventually brought on as assistant director and later worked in sales and promotions for the Cowboys franchise before being hired as DCC director by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. But the cheerleaders weren’t always an international presence; in fact, before Finglass took the job, the team was operating at a deficit, and moving the team out of the red was one of Finglass’ first challenges as director. But she succeeded in making them profitable, eventually introducing branded items like calendars to promote the team's image and establishing dance camps and competitions — all to expand revenue streams for a group that wasn't originally intended to be a money-maker.

But with the new branding opportunities came the temptation to over-sponsor and slap the cheerleaders' logo— also redesigned under Finglass — on everything. "I was very cautious, which made it a little harder for me as a brand-new marketer to figure out ways that we could create revenue without compromising the mission of the cheerleaders," Finglass said. And when she tried reaching out to Mattel to make a Barbie doll modeled after the cheerleaders, she was denied for years because the company still didn't think the team had a national appeal. It wasn't until Finglass helped the team get its own Country Music Television reality show that a Barbie designer finally took notice two years ago; the resulting DCC doll sold out nationwide in three days. In addition to watching the cheerleaders establish themselves as go-to USO entertainers, Finglass considers the Barbie deal her biggest DCC brand achievement, especially when she looks back at the thick file of denial letters from Mattel.

On The Scene: Retail awaits good tidings

The end of Halloween heralds the unofficial beginning of the holiday retail rush, and signs of the season can already be seen sprouting throughout downtown Portland; miniature Christmas trees line the sidewalk around Pioneer Square, and department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue are already decking out their storefronts with holiday displays. Yet the number of vacant storefronts in the retail core is a telling indication of how tough 2009 has been on downtown businesses.

New openings have subsided but there are a few notable exceptions; Kettleman Bagel Company opened a third location downtown this summer, and from what I was told there, the store sees a regular morning and noontime rush from the neighboring high-rise business folk. Another recent addition with potential is Simon and Helen Director Park at Southwest Park and Taylor, a new urban plaza that officially opened last week. Located just a couple blocks away from Pioneer Courthouse Square, Director Park is like an artfully remodeled nook down the hall from Portland’s Living Room, featuring a glass canopy and a still-to-be-completed fountain and café.

Neighboring businesses that have endured construction noise and street closures will welcome the prospect of increased traffic and activity in the area, and a quick stop at Flying Elephants Delicatessen showed that the store’s prime location along the new park’s perimeter is certainly giving it a boost. But how much will the park really do for business? It’s difficult to tell so early on, and judging by the sparse foot traffic across the park’s gleaming expanse yesterday, Portlanders largely still don’t know the park is open, or just aren’t coming to it. More ominous is the long-awaited but still-delayed Park Avenue West building one block away, where Tom Moyer’s vision of a 22-story mixed-use tower remains mired in the muck of the recession.

On The Scene: Job Seeking 101

Software-industry veteran Michael Hoffman was unexpectedly laid off a year ago, but he wasted no time getting back in the game. After 129 days, 74 job applications, 268 emails, 109 phone calls, four career fairs/networking events, 17 phone interviews and eight in-person interviews, Hoffman finally found a job as a senior project manager at Jeppeson Sanderson.

With so much experience in the job-seeking scene, Hoffman has a good sense of which tactics are effective and which are a waste of time, ideas he shared at a seminar this week hosted by the Rose City Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN) at Portland’s World Trade Center. The reality of the job landscape is a bleak one: As of August 2009, the ratio of job postings to unemployed people in Portland is 1-to-7 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics cited on Indeed.com. While that’s not as bad as cities like Miami and Detroit (ratios of 1-to-11 and 1-to-17, respectively), Portland’s competitiveness still outpaces most other major U.S. cities. So what are the best ways for Portlanders to go after opportunities and sell themselves effectively?

As far as online tools, Hoffman prefers using sites like Indeed.com and Craigslist for broad searches; Indeed aggregates job postings from other major sites and Craigslist is often used by smaller companies who don’t want to pay to advertise on the larger sites. In-person search activities like job fairs can be helpful, Hoffman says, but you don’t always have the opportunity to do much for yourself. “When I went to a job fair and there were at least a couple thousand people and you stand in line for half an hour to 45 minutes to have a two to three minute talk, it just becomes a little bit demoralizing,” Hoffman said. However, you can make the most of networking events by having unique conversations with reps that will help them remember you later. And if you’re at a busy single-company event, seek out the reps who aren’t talking to anybody, even if they don’t represent your field; as Hoffman learned, those conversations can lead to an interview with the right person.

On The Scene: Startups prepare for tax battle

Tucked away among the restaurants and shops in Portland’s Old Town is NedSpace, a co-working office space for startups that combines old red brick architecture with a contemporary Ikea feel. A small crowd was gathered there last night for what looked like an after-work party, but the ambience was in contrast to the serious reason for the meeting. Most of the people were members of the startup community and were there to hear arguments against the controversial business taxes recently passed by the Legislature.

The meeting was organized by members of Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, a coalition of businesses and individuals that collected double the amount of signatures required to get the measures onto January’s ballot — the first time Oregon will vote on a statewide referendum since 2004. Two tax measures are at issue: One raises the minimum corporate tax and one raises personal income tax on the highest-earning individuals.

Bob Wiggins, managing partner of Mount Hood Equity Partners, named several reasons why the issue should matter to startups. In addition to the implications of the taxes themselves — raising the personal income tax alone would make Oregon’s the highest in the country — Wiggins mentioned Oregon’s lack of capital-gain deduction in its income tax and the tax-free appeal of nearby Vancouver, Wash., as added factors that will drive business out of Oregon if the measures are not defeated. “This is as bad as it could possibly get for the startup community,” Wiggins said. “All [these factors] are designed, it seems, to shoot us in the foot.”

On The Scene: The life of the party business

Walking into the exhibit hall at the Oregon Convention Center on Wednesday felt almost like stepping into a formal event for which I was considerably underdressed. Lavishness was the theme, with artsy seating areas and dining tables laid out with elegant settings and décor. There was even a small band playing light jazz music in the center of the room where people were crowded around blackjack tables. Whose high school prom did I crash?

My first impression of my surroundings was appropriate: I was visiting the Bravo! Live event, an annual showcase of the local hospitality and meetings industry. The hall was filled with extravagantly outfitted booths representing every sector of the business, from event design to transportation, along with representatives from big-name meeting venues like Timberline Lodge and the Portland Art Museum. Many of the exhibitors pulled out all the stops; the elaborate food displays were just the beginning. And with so much glitz in one room, it was hard to imagine this industry as yet another recession victim.

When I met James Joyce of Lake Oswego-based Gourmet Productions, he talked about the strategy shifts the company had made to keep itself alive, such as pushing to get new contacts and narrowing its focus to wineries and weddings. But while people were eager to try the beautifully arranged food samples at the company’s booth, Joyce did comment that attendance at the show was down compared to what he saw last year, and that attendees seemed to be more interested in venue shopping or networking than in catering services.

On The Scene: Going green takes a team

In a state like Oregon, going green is not a new cause by any means. The Beaver State is a hub of alternative-vehicle interest, Portland’s public transportation and bike-friendliness are world-famous, and sustainable local products are the norm. So what else could the annual GoGreen Conference have to offer to attendees?

I checked out GoGreen 09 this week to find out. The event was at the Gerding Theater in Portland’s Pearl District — a small venue for the tremendous turnout the conference received. Crowds of businesspeople packed the lobby and milled around outside, representing companies such as Pacific Power, NW Natural and Providence Health & Services. And following its debut last month, Arcimoto’s brand-new Pulse EV was parked proudly in front of the theater (and Portland Mayor Sam Adams even stopped by to check it out again).

Not everyone was there representing business. I chatted with a recent MBA graduate from Dominican University of California who was attending the conference simply to get a sense of the way Portland approached sustainability issues. But with panel session topics ranging from green funding options to plan writing, the conference was clearly aimed at getting businesses of all stages started in the sustainability game.

On The Scene: Oregon gets supercharged

Portland’s Pioneer Square was buzzing with excitement last week over the three-wheeled contraption being backed out a U-Haul. Eugene-based Arcimoto was premiering its new Pulse electric vehicle, and legislators and promoters were on hand to praise the machine’s benefits to both Oregon and the green industry. Mayor Sam Adams even revealed that the machine was helping him win an ongoing electric-car competition between himself and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.

But to some, it wasn’t just the premiere of an electric car. I overheard one attendee telling another, “This is not a car. It’s a revolution.”

The debut of the Pulse had curious citizens and reporters swarming Portland’s living room, snapping photos of the strange-looking vehicle that looked like it was plucked straight out of sci-fi fantasy. Businesspeople were talking excitedly about the implications of the new car, and Adams even got to sit in it. It was a warm reception for Arcimoto’s brainchild, which the startup had been working on since it was founded in 2007.

On The Scene: Small biz still breathing

Oregon is home to over 338,000 small businesses, a mighty sector that makes up a substantial majority of the state’s employers – 97.8% according to the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. But it’s no secret that small businesses have taken a severe economic beating. Will people still be willing to put everything on the line to get that coffee shop or craft store up and running? And how are existing businesses getting by?

Some say the economy is improving, so I stopped by the Oregon Small Business Fair this past weekend to see if things were brightening up on the small-business side as well. Plenty of folks were eager to spend their rainy Saturday inside the Oregon Convention Center’s spacious halls, taking advantage of the free all-day event sponsored by local government and business organizations. Attendees had a wealth of resources available to them, from free seminars and consultations to information booths from groups like Portland General Electric, Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon and the City of Portland Revenue Bureau.

Also being represented at the fair was the Portland chapter of SCORE Counselors to America’s Small Business, a nonprofit operating out of the SBA and staffed by volunteers with small-business experience. Counselors Janet Livesay and Terry Jones were on hand to offer the organization’s services to small-business owners at the fair or people thinking about starting a business. They both agreed that the recession hasn’t necessarily put a damper on the volume of businesses getting launched. “Because people are losing their jobs, some of them are turning to their entrepreneurial side and considering business,” Jones said.

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