Blogs

Editor's Notes: Robin says relax

I am facing the horrifying realization that 1980s fashion is back with a vengeance this season: big shoulders, leggings, oversized knits, MC Hammer pants (ask an old person), zippered ankle boots. I was just as hooked on Dallas and Dynasty as the next sap, but I really hate the idea of dressing like Joan Collins again. What next? Mall bangs?

Flash, trash and cash pretty much summed up the decade and once around was enough for me, so it is really disturbing to see signs that the ’80s are infiltrating other areas.

On The Scene: Sharpening your SEO edge

“If you’re not doing it, your competition is, and you’re going to be left in the dust." When someone tells you that, you'd better sit up and take notes.

That was among the parting bits of advice from Colleen Wright, an expert in SEO and owner of the Search Engine Academy of Oregon. About 30 people – mostly self-employed – settled into the air-conditioned comfort of the MacForce training center in southeast Portland this week for a workshop with Wright. The issue at hand: How to effectively use SEO for your website to market your business.

While the workshop was free, implementing SEO methods into a website operation usually isn’t. Yet Wright said that people are still increasing their budgets for SEO, according to research from Forrester, and about 73% of merchants are making optimization a top priority.

The OB Poll: Credit crunch, or not?

The thrifty will inherit the earth. According to our current poll asking how the credit crunch is affecting spending, almost half of the respondents say that they have survived the crunch by saving, and avoiding the pain of borrowing.

But the next largest group says just the opposite. Those saying getting credit is “Impossible. I’m bleeding and can’t get a bandage,” was the vote of 22 percent of the respondents.

Whichever way you handle it, the credit crunch is likely to persist, according to MarketWatch, saying that the Federal Reserve reported this week that with “delinquency rates rising to a record high, banks were still clamping down on lending to businesses and consumers over the past three months, and they said they planned to keep their credit standards tight for at least a year.”

Jobs Watch: Integra promises no layoffs

Maybe you’ve heard the one about the fast-rising Portland company that got snapped up in a “loan-to-own” deal that’s becoming increasingly commonplace as the vultures circle. Maybe you read it last week in this blog, under the category of bad news.

Dudley Slater, CEO of Integra Telecom (one of Oregon’s most successful private companies over the past decade, 700 jobs statewide), took exception to my characterization of his company’s efforts to restructure its debt. In his view, the deal is good news because it cuts Integra’s debt in half and sets a course for growth. But rather than paraphrase his perspective, allow me to print an excerpt from our hour-long conversation Tuesday morning at Integra’s corporate headquarters in Northeast Portland, edited for clarity and brevity.

Editor's Notes: Scenes from a workforce

Snippets of dialogue from my screenplay for a coming-of-age film I'm calling The Community College Graduate:

Businessman: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Disaffected graduate: Yes, sir.

Businessman: Are you listening?
Disaffected graduate: Yes, I am.
Businessman: Welding.

With apologies to Dustin Hoffman and that other iconic coming-of-age movie, The Graduate, it’s obvious that plastics is no longer the killer career answer it once was. This brilliance came to me after I recently had coffee with Dana Haynes, a spokesman for Portland Community College. I first met Dana three years ago when he was the only non-female invited to a leadership conference for young women. Three years later, he continues to be the only non-female invited, which I think speaks well of his inner qualities. He’s also a former journalist and full of enthusiasm and great tips about what his college is doing. Like welding.

The OB Poll: Clunkers program crashes

This week's poll asking about the cash for clunkers program closes out with the majority voting that the federal program is a waste of money. The second most-popular opinion is that the program at least is better than cash for bankers.

Seems the ire toward the financial sector hasn't cooled, even though pundits are saying they see the end of the recession.

Consumer groups are also on the case. They've called on the Department of Transportation to crack down on dealerships offering questionable sales terms to customers participating in the program.

On The Scene: Businesses try on Twitter

People from all walks of business packed a casual luncheon Tuesday on the second floor of Portland's Bridgeport Brewpub + Bakery. Business cards were swapped left and right, but the focus of the lunch had more to do with the laptops and smart phones lying on the tables than straight-up networking.

The Oregon chapter of the American Marketing Association was holding a “Tweetshop," a workshop designed to help companies use Twitter to its fullest potential. On hand to school the eager learners were digital strategists David Veneski of Intel and Alex Williams of eROI.

The stats brought up during the workshop spoke volumes about the astounding growth of Twitter this year: The site jumped over 131 percent in unique visitors from February to March and reached 23 million unique visitors in June, surpassing the mighty New York Times website and catching up to CNN.com. With such a large user base, networking is easy; Veneski talked about connections he made simply by following people on Twitter. “It’s pretty interesting," Veneski said. "You get access to people you normally wouldn't be able to [reach].” Plus, with users frequently "re-tweeting" other people's posts, Veneski said information can quickly go viral no matter how big your follower base is.

Jobs Watch: There's good news, and there's bad news

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: One of Oregon’s most successful private companies in recent years, Integra Telecom, is on the verge of changing hands under less than ideal circumstances. A front-page story about a sharp increase in “distressed takeovers” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Integra is being forced to turn over ownership to Tennenbaum Capital Partners LLC following a barrage of “hardball tactics” deployed by the debtholder.

In the story, Integra CEO Dudley Slater is quoted as saying, “Life is always better when you have options and in this case, we didn’t have any options.”

That’s bad news for Integra, which earned $684 million in revenues last year and employs 2,300 people including 550 in Oregon. Companies that get taken over by private equity firms don’t always suffer massive job cuts shortly thereafter, but it comes as no surprise when they do.

Editor's Notes: Clunkers at work

Doussard Family Industries (DFI) called an emergency executive session this weekend to discuss whether the company should participate in the cash for clunkers program.

As CEO, president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and bookkeeper, I wanted to get the operation manager’s input. He is, after all, in charge of all car maintenance and upkeep, buying gas and finding a parking space. Although he is not authorized to make car purchases (or any purchases, for that matter) without executive signature, I do like to make him feel like a part of the team. He’s been with the company 31 years and we at DFI value his loyal service, if not his attitude.

At issue was the company vehicle: a 12-year-old F150 that gets 12 miles to the gallon. (According to recent reports, it’s one of the top vehicles traded in the program.) It’s an environmental embarrassment, not to mention a style disaster, and lord knows it qualifies as a clunker. I was thinking that if we could take the $4,500 offered in the federal program to upgrade to something more appropriate for executive use, now was the time to consider it. (I've commissioned a poll for further input.)