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.
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.
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.)
Where do you go if you need some money for your business? Home equity is no longer a solution and credit cards can be a poor one. SBA lending, though better, is still not great. So what do you do?
Given the current state of the credit markets, it was no surprise to read in the Oregonian that “dozens of small-business owners crowded into a downtown meeting room [last] Tuesday to tell U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader that federal efforts to stimulate the economy have skipped over them” and that something must be done to make more money available to responsible small business owners. (Schrader is the chairman of the House Small Business Committee's subcommittee on finance and tax.)
Indeed, a recent opinion piece in the Statesman Journal nailed it: “If Congress and the Obama administration want to get the economy going, they must get money flowing to small businesses. That hasn't happened.”
The results are in for our poll on the governor's support of Business Energy Tax Credits, and it looks like the majority of you think the governor is right on track for championing the program.
The tax credits are offered to those who invest in renewable energies, alternative fuels and conservation. The credit – 35 percent of the eligible project costs – can cover any costs directly related to the project, from equipment to installation. Gov. Kulongoski is a strong advocate of the program and today vetoed HB 2472, a piece of legislation that would cut down the credits. The governor believes rolling them back would hurt green-job creation, and a good amount of OB readers agreed.
Yet others cite the negatives of a program they perceive to be overly charitable and think Kulongoski should reconsider his veto. Some say the program's subsidizing of wind developments that sell power to California decreases Oregon's self-reliance and energy efficiency, for instance.
I don’t know about you, but my neighborhood pool has been a bit over-crowded lately, closer to human stew than the Mediterranean. I’ve spent quite a few evenings there over the past week, soaking in shallow water while the kids swim free, catching up on what the parents have to say about their jobs — or former jobs.
Not surprisingly, I’ve heard some grim stuff: 60-hour work weeks cut down to a trickle, law firms giving up on a decent recovery until somewhere in 2010, newcomers with advanced degrees and great ideas getting nowhere with their job searches.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the economy — and the pools for that matter — might be more appealing elsewhere. But then the other day I wandered into a shallow-end conversation that gave me a completely different impression. I had met Prashant before through the usual stuff, tennis and kids and so forth, but we had never really talked. What I didn’t know is that he’s held executive positions with local firms like Tripwire and Fios; he’s launched a start-up and business is pouring in faster than he can handle it. His partner is a lawyer who lives across the street, and he says that tons of people from his neighborhood are seizing on the momentary lull to build new businesses. As you might expect, he’s got a substantially brighter view of the current trend towards frugality, because it is creating exactly the sort of environment he needs to convince companies to take a chance on his value proposition.
People often want to know if they really need to draft a business plan. The answer is yes. Creating a business plan is an important exercise for new and established business alike.
And yes, I know you are not looking forward to it. I have written three business plans over the years and I know that writing one is time consuming, a lot of work, and a sometimes frustrating process.
The first two times I did it, I drafted the plans from scratch, using models that I had read in books. They were fine business plans, not great by any means, but serviceable. Certainly the process of writing the business plan was very valuable. Doing so lets you think through the venture carefully, helping you to avoid problems before you encounter them.
This year’s trip to Spain is sitting on the top of my house. The rot was showing through, so we broke down and replaced the darned roof last month. And what did that mean? Right. A staycation.
So last week during the record heat we joined the ranks of vacationers in Oregon, mostly running around the state to escape the heat, from Timothy Lake to the Coast to the McKenzie River. Now, living in Oregon is heaven to me, so I’m not complaining. And roaming around for a week gave me an interesting view of how business is doing in Small Town, OR. While the beauty of the state can’t be overstated, neither can the effects of the economic meltdown.
Almost everywhere we went we were reminded of how badly the recession has settled in around the state. But even if you are taking a staycation, it doesn’t mean you are filling up the hotels or restaurants or spending a lot of money.
With the summer sun shining high over Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, throngs of people milled about the grounds in flip-flops and sunglasses holding froth-filled mugs. I was at the 22nd annual Oregon Brewers Festival, curious to find out if people were still willing to spend their hard-earned cash on craft beers.
While admission to the event was free, visitors instead purchased a taster package ranging from $10 to $50 for beer samples or full drinks. But for those in attendance, it was clear that money was no object in their quest to sample the 80 brews available under the wide, roomy tents. Beers from across the country were represented at the festival, but from the conversations I had, a passion for local brews and sharing it with others is what’s keeping the beer economy from running dry, at least in Oregon.
“There’s a real love of the craft brew,” said Ken Baer, co-founder of Portland startup Taplister.com, who was at the festival promoting the company. “‘Craft’ is a perfect word for it. I think people also want to have that sense of community, and in Portland, it seems like the level of pride is going up.”