Surviving the recovery

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Archives - November 2009
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.

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Robin Doussard
Editor
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Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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