Must Reads

On The Scene: Oregon gets supercharged

Portland’s Pioneer Square was buzzing with excitement last week over the three-wheeled contraption being backed out a U-Haul. Eugene-based Arcimoto was premiering its new Pulse electric vehicle, and legislators and promoters were on hand to praise the machine’s benefits to both Oregon and the green industry. Mayor Sam Adams even revealed that the machine was helping him win an ongoing electric-car competition between himself and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.

But to some, it wasn’t just the premiere of an electric car. I overheard one attendee telling another, “This is not a car. It’s a revolution.”

The debut of the Pulse had curious citizens and reporters swarming Portland’s living room, snapping photos of the strange-looking vehicle that looked like it was plucked straight out of sci-fi fantasy. Businesspeople were talking excitedly about the implications of the new car, and Adams even got to sit in it. It was a warm reception for Arcimoto’s brainchild, which the startup had been working on since it was founded in 2007.

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On The Scene: Small biz still breathing

Oregon is home to over 338,000 small businesses, a mighty sector that makes up a substantial majority of the state’s employers – 97.8% according to the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. But it’s no secret that small businesses have taken a severe economic beating. Will people still be willing to put everything on the line to get that coffee shop or craft store up and running? And how are existing businesses getting by?

Some say the economy is improving, so I stopped by the Oregon Small Business Fair this past weekend to see if things were brightening up on the small-business side as well. Plenty of folks were eager to spend their rainy Saturday inside the Oregon Convention Center’s spacious halls, taking advantage of the free all-day event sponsored by local government and business organizations. Attendees had a wealth of resources available to them, from free seminars and consultations to information booths from groups like Portland General Electric, Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon and the City of Portland Revenue Bureau.

Also being represented at the fair was the Portland chapter of SCORE Counselors to America’s Small Business, a nonprofit operating out of the SBA and staffed by volunteers with small-business experience. Counselors Janet Livesay and Terry Jones were on hand to offer the organization’s services to small-business owners at the fair or people thinking about starting a business. They both agreed that the recession hasn’t necessarily put a damper on the volume of businesses getting launched. “Because people are losing their jobs, some of them are turning to their entrepreneurial side and considering business,” Jones said.

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On The Scene: Global food for thought

Deciding whether to take your food product into the global market could have more at stake than just the success of your company. It could also be a matter of making Oregon the fulcrum of the Pacific Rim, or holding the state back as “California’s Canada.”

Jeff Deiss, business and cooperative program director of USDA Rural Development Oregon, jokingly kicked off a presentation Friday with these comparisons, but the point was clear: Oregon is at an important crossroads to take advantage of global food-market opportunities. The presentation, “Emerging Global Food Markets: Opportunities and Challenges for Oregon,” was a talk by Tom Reardon of Michigan State University, an expert on international food trends. Nearly 100 people packed the World Trade Center auditorium in downtown Portland, and as the country commemorated the eighth anniversary of 9/11, Deiss pointed out that it was an appropriate time to discuss how Oregon can contribute its resources to help create a more integrated global economy.

Reardon was fresh from a months-long visit to India, just one of the many places he’s visited that has given him a unique perspective on food trends. His biggest observation: The massive growth of emerging markets, primarily in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, whose incomes and economies have grown so rapidly over the past decades that they essentially added 1 billion middle-class consumers to the market. What’s more, the food market in these emerging areas is growing 500% to 700% faster than the U.S. market. “I’m going to argue that the emerging markets will be the centerpiece of your thinking in 10 or 15 years, because they’ll be the main market in the world,” Reardon said.

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On The Scene: Making workspace work

So you’re setting up your team’s workspace. You can choose to go the cube farm route, or you can keep the space wide open (like our editorial department here at Oregon Business). You can even set up something temporary in a communal lunch area. Does the environment really make a difference?

Turns out it does, particularly when it comes to encouraging teamwork and collaboration.

Gretchen Anderson, director of interaction design at San Francisco agency Lunar Design, gave a presentation Wednesday night for members of the Computer-Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) — a jovial audience of nearly 40 designers and architects gathering at the University of Oregon’s White Stag Block in Portland’s Old Town. Although the talk was clearly geared toward the design community — I’ll admit, she initially lost me on the “positive and negative space” concepts — Anderson offered up some qualities of good “war rooms” that businesses of any trade can establish.

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On The Scene: The future of M&A

The turnout was small at Intel Capital’s Jones Farm campus in Hillsboro, but the topic at hand was a massive one. Sixteen people sat in on a panel discussion this week called “Mergers and Acquisitions: Navigating the M&A Landscape,” helmed by three professionals well traveled in M&A territory.

The discussion was part of this year’s Silicon Forest Technology and Financial Forum (formerly two separate events), and as the panelists shared their unique perspectives on M&A today, there was no denying that technology transactions have hit rough waters in this economy. Is there an end in sight to the bleak picture? It’s hard to tell.

Although Intel is looking at some expansion areas, including graphics and visual computing, its M&A director, John Zdrodowski, said the company’s general financial discipline over the past few years — the belt-tightening and restructuring done in response to the downturn — is here to stay. Budgets at Intel are tight and head counts are flat, so any acquisitions the company makes have to make absolute financial sense. And Intel is also cutting back on divestitures. “That’s mostly behind us,” Zdrodowski said. “There may be some in the future, but fewer than past years.”

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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.

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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.

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On The Scene: Keeping the mug half full

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.”

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Your Business: Finding the right recipe

steve-BLOG

There are a lot of moving parts that go into starting a successful new business — a good idea, sufficient capital, a quality team, and so on — but a vital, often overlooked factor is the need for a good business recipe.

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Your Business: Getting started in e-commerce

Steve: I read your previous column where you suggest that if business is slow in my area (and it is) we should consider getting into e-commerce. I like that idea, but I’m not sure how to start, and I’m not sure what to sell. Thoughts? — Deanna

Deanna: You bet. In fact, I recently did a webinar at AT&T called E-Commerce Essentials that explains the process of creating an e-store and selling online.

Basically, it is a seven-step process.

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