City looks at new process that could help some small companies

City officials might try a little gardening to boost Beaverton's economy.

They're considering using a concept known as 'economic gardening' to nurture existing businesses, providing special services to help them flourish.

The shift in economic development strategies could provide Beaverton businesses with tools and information that would give them a competitive edge, boosting the local economy in the process.

'I was very impressed and excited when I learned the city was looking into this program,' said Lorraine Clarno, president of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce. 'This is a big shift in economic development.

'In the past, economic development strategies have been pretty project based and project specific. This strategy would focus, enhance and help grow the existing businesses that are here. This is an exciting opportunity for more public and private partnerships. I think it's a real step forward.'

The idea of economic gardening originated in Littleton, Colo., in the late 1980s and has been implemented in varying degrees in communities throughout the United States.

The focus of the strategy is to provide small businesses with access to strategic information, connections to consumers and connections to other businesses with technology that small businesses might not otherwise have access to or be able to afford, said Rob Pochert, Beaverton's economic development manager.

As an example, the city could purchase commercial database services like Lexis/Nexis 'Company Dossier,' Business Analyst 9.1, CoStar and Dun and Bradstreet.

Through the use of these high-powered data mining resources, the city would be able to provide marketing lists, competitor intelligence, new product releases, industry trends, market demographics, market research reports and prospective partners and resources.

'The services the city would offer are very data intensive and more strategic for the future planning and long-term strategies for businesses,' Pochert said. 'I think this program has potential for this community.

'It is an opportunity for Beaverton to work with existing businesses and provide services nobody else in Oregon is providing. I'm excited about it.'

Pochert and Clarno are not alone in their support of the program concept.

Mayor Rob Drake and City Councilor Dennis Doyle both would like to see how an economic gardening program would work in Beaverton.

'When businesses are working well and people are working, you have a complete community,' Drake said. 'Our goal is to work cooperatively and effectively with our business partners.

'The bulk of the businesses in this community are smaller businesses, and this program would benefit them.'

Doyle agreed.

'If government can help them, we can't hit a better home run,' Doyle said. 'There is a lot of potential here.

'This is the type of thing city government should be doing in serving citizens and businesses in this community.'

He said implementing an economic gardening program would complement other city initiatives like the redevelopment of downtown and launch of the Open Technology Business Center.

'They go well together,' Doyle said.

While Doyle voiced his excitement for moving forward, Council President Cathy Stanton said she would first like an update and status report on the city's small business incubator that helps startup companies find their economic legs.

'I would like an update on the incubator before we branch out,' Stanton said. 'As much as I want to branch, I don't want to jump baskets.'

Pochert left a July 24 special meeting of the council feeling hopeful.

'The City Council was intrigued with the concept and wanted more information about how it might be applicable to Beaverton - what it would look like, what it would mean and how it would work,' Pochert said. 'The council wants more information about where economic gardening would fit into the economic development strategic plan.

'From my perspective, it has some possibilities because it focuses on helping existing businesses to become more successful.'

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