Economic developers are beginning to focus on growing Oregon’s small businesses by targeting those with a potential for quick growth and sharing tactical information typically sourced only by big businesses.
The strategy is called “economic gardening.” It targets small, traded-sector companies with a high potential for growth and provides resources to increase business, efficiency and sales. “The idea is to bring more wealth into the region to create jobs,” says David Beam, Newberg’s economic developer.
The Portland-Vancouver Regional Partners Council for Economic Development partnered with the Oregon Micro Enterprise Network and other Portland Metro area economic development agencies and developers to launch a pilot project in November. But Beam says it began in earnest last month, and already has attracted between five and 10 businesses in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark counties.
Beam says the motivation to start an economic gardening program came from the feeling among economic developers that there has been too much focus on attracting new, out-of-state businesses and not enough on supporting local businesses.
“It’s much easier to grow what we have than to get other businesses,” Beam says.
Economic gardening works by providing businesses with “key tactical information” that typically only big businesses have access to, says Rob Pochert, Beaverton’s economic development manager. The Regional Partners Council received $20,000 from the U.S. Economic Administration to purchase subscriptions to data resource tools that provide market analysis.
Beaverton has had an economic gardening program since 2007, and so far 100 companies have used the program. Pochert says 25% of those reported increased business, and 5% made capital investments.
The Portland pilot project is not a full-fledged economic gardening program. The regional council will measure success in six months by determining whether participating businesses have seen an increase in sales, profit or jobs.
Funding for a statewide program was under consideration by the Legislature during February’s special session.