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Small Oregon businesses go global

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Articles - June 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Hydra-Power VP for business development Dan Sowards is working to expand sles into England, Italy and Russia. // Photo by Eric Näslund
Futuristic industrial products from Corvallis-based Perpetua Power Source Technologies are widely available in Japan as a result of a partnership with a major importer there.
Portland-based Hydra-Power Systems is another local company that is becoming increasingly global. Dan Sowards, vice president for business development, says most of the company’s sales come from distributing hydraulic components and systems. But the company also builds custom vehicle manifolds in Portland for a growing number of international customers, mostly factories run by U.S-based businesses in Europe and Asia.

“We’re developing a more global sales team to capture this business,” says Sowards. “Because there’s business to be had. We’re growing it every day.”

Scott Goddin, director of the Portland Export Assistance Center, says one of Oregon’s strengths as an exporter is a strong supply of businesses that make components for industrial applications. Rather than moving into a new market independently, these companies partner with a larger business with global reach — say, Boeing or Intel or Apple or General Electric — and fill a niche in the supply chain. That business model has proved lucrative for two of Oregon’s healthiest corporations: Precision Castparts (which sells to Boeing) and TriQuint Semiconductor (which sells to Apple). It has also enabled far smaller businesses such as Columbia Green to go global for the first time.

Columbia Green was a tiny green roof business headquartered in Portland’s Central Eastside when CEO Vanessa Keitges signed a deal with Firestone Building Products in August 2010. The deal “expanded our reach overnight,” Keitges says. “In about six months we quoted $15 million in green roof projects. We never would have been able to do that on our own.”

A recent trip to Toronto with Portland Mayor Sam Adams helped Keitges close Columbia Green’s first major international sale, a million-dollar deal for the roof of a Wal-Mart planned for Vancouver, B.C. It probably won’t be the last sale of its kind, given strict new laws requiring green roofs for new buildings in Toronto and Vancouver. Keitges says she expects Columbia Green to grow from five employees to 12 in 2012, while providing significant work for the manufacturing company in Camas, Wash., that builds the roof linings, the Canby business that supplies the pumice-based soil for the roofs and the Portland freight company that ships it all into the Firestone supply chain.

Few businesses have wider global reach than Firestone. One of the few that does is General Electric, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Portland several years ago to nurture green innovators. As a result of that partnership, eight local clean-tech businesses vetted by city economic development officials recently met with GE representatives to pitch their ideas and explore potential partnerships.

Perpetua Power Source Technologies hopes to get a similar boost from its recently announced partnership with Altima Corp. to distribute its products in Japan. The 20-employee Corvallis company has created an innovative small-scale power source that uses no fuel, instead converting heat from industrial processes into electricity. “We have a product that works, and it fits into their distribution channels,” says vice president of marketing Jerry Wiant.



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