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The fortunate few

After spending the previous month delving into all things green, I've shifted my focus back to greenbacks, or lack thereof. More specifically, I have been analyzing the losses and gains of Oregon's most important privately held companies. The big picture, as you may have guessed, looks bleak. But there are some encouraging surprises buried in there as well.

I don't want to give away the results of our annual Private 150 survey, but since that list is ranked by revenues and this blog is devoted to jobs, allow me to tweak the results and offer some insight on who's shrinking and who's expanding.

The largest employers among the companies that participated in our survey (ranked by Oregon jobs) area: Avamere Health Systems, Jeld-Wen, Bimart, Roseburg Forest Products, Les Schwab, Harry & David, Shari's, Swanson Group, R.B. Pamplin Corp and A-dec. Not one of those businesses added jobs in 2008. Jeld-Wen, formerly Oregon's largest privately held employer, shaved 500 jobs, Ron Tonkin chopped 214. Les Schwab cut 206. Roseburg Forest Products eliminated 200. Leatherman Tool Group knifed 117. I'm running out of verbs here, so enough is enough.

Another one bites the dust

When I heard over the weekend that Portland-based startup Vidoop apparently was shutting its doors, first reported by TechCrunch and then picked up by Silicon Florist’s Rick Turoczy, the first thing I thought was, “Damn, there goes the Next feature for July."

Admittedly, that’s a pretty selfish thing to think, but we had a feature ready to go on Vidoop’s new CAPTCHA innovation (the company makes Internet security technology). Contributing writer Adrianne Jeffries had interviewed Vidoop software developer Benjamin Stover about using image recognition to fool the robots. It was a nifty idea: the CAPTCHA displays images and asks the user to click several of them in order, which is an easy instruction for a human to follow, but not so much for the web-trolling bots.

Well, sorry Vidoop. You’d been through two rounds of layoffs and it stinks to see another tree fall in the Silcon Forest. And that CAPTCHA idea sounded pretty good. But what about me? Each month we spotlight innovation in our magazine on our Next pages and it’s pulling teeth to get companies to tell us about their cool stuff. So here’s your chance once again. Got a great product, process or idea to share? Just reply here. And do it soon enough and you could be featured in our July issue. We have an opening.

Tara's working hands

Last week, when I was in D.C. covering the Small Business Administration's annual Small Business Week for my USA TODAY column, I was fortunate enough to meet Oregon's Small Business Person of the Year - Tara O'Keeffe.

Tara runs, and is the creative power behind, O'Keeffe's Company, a line of fantasic, all-natural skin therapy products invented by Tara herself.

While Tara was recognized in D.C. as one of 50 state winners, it was Thursday night in Portland where she received her local honor when the Oregon SCORE chapter and the Portland SBA honored her at an award gala at the convention center.

Tax breaks for new jobs

I've gotten some nice feedback on my first draft of a top 10 list of Oregon businesses that are hiring and expanding. The biggest response: Hey, put us on the list. We're doing just fine.

That was the message from Portland Energy Conservation, which has 23 job openings in the red-hot field of green building and energy efficiency. This company even has a bounty hunter program that pays $1,000 for successful referrals for hard-to-fill positions such as refrigeration engineers. Who needs rock stars when you have refrigeration engineers?

I also heard from a marketing company out of Bend called G5 Search Marketing that has tripled its employee count since the end of 2007, from 15 to 45. My contact there, Devin Davis, made a strong argument that there is light at the end of the tunnel in Bend, despite its embarrassing position near the top of the list for the nation's highest unemployment rates in metro areas. He reeled off a quick list of companies that are poised to take off there, including GL Suite, Rocketbux and PV Powered.

Get real, budget chiefs

Come on, state budget chiefs. You owe the businesses and citizens of Oregon a lot more clarity on your tax-hike plans. And it should have been clear when you released your budget on May 18.

Trying to make up for a $3.8 billion shortfall, Portland Democrat Sen. Margaret Carter and Ashland Democrat Rep. Peter Buckley outlined balancing the budget with a mix of cuts, higher taxes and using federal stimulus and rainy day reserves, plus $800,000 in new tax revenue.

It is easy to see in their detailed spreadsheet where the cuts are, but it's impossible to figure out what they are thinking about new taxes because it's not there. Oh, a few general ideas have been floated, including raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, and the Legislature has been eyeing raising taxes on beer and cigarettes. But nothing even that specific was in the blueprint.

Is it time for cheap tricks?

So, what’s working for your business? It’s not an insignificant question, that’s for sure. With Oregon unemployment the second highest in the nation, finding and keeping customers is harder than ever.

Go to any retail area around Portland, or a main street in any rural community in Eastern Oregon and all of the “for rent” signs are potent reminders of those small businesses that never did figure out the answer to the question posed above.

For many businesses the answer is discounting. I know that's true for mine. I am in the business of selling content, and whether it is an article, a webinar, a speech or whatever, we are not commanding, nor are we asking for the sorts of prices we got even a year ago. And it’s working.

Who's hot and hiring

With Oregon's unemployment rate hovering at 12%, we all know who is cutting back: pretty much everyone. So who's hiring? Who is going to pull us out of this mess?

We at the magazine are constantly on the prowl for gems of optimism buried beneath the refuse of our state economy. We've found some great quirky success stories: landfills, urban chickens, guns and foreclosures, to name a few.

But quirk will only take you so far. Where are the Oregon companies that will create jobs over the next year? What follows is a first draft of a top 10 list. If I'm missing anyone big or hyping someone unrealistically, call me on it.