Post-attack currents still swirl around business
• While some firms prosper after 9-11, others drift into red
When Mike Hale heard about the terrorist attacks in the early morning of Sept. 11, it immediately occurred to him that the demand for U.S. flags was about to surge.
So, the vice president of Elmer's Flag & Banner on Northeast Broadway called a manager at home.
'I said, 'Get your clothes on and meet me at the store.' '
There, the two men filled out purchase orders and faxed them to U.S. flag suppliers Ñ ordering $100,000 worth of stock in an hour.
It soon became apparent that keeping up with demand would be a monumental challenge. Hale had to close the store one day because his supply ran out and another day to give the staff a rest.
'We were frazzled,' Hale says a year later. 'We figure that we sold 2 1/2 years' worth of flags in the last quarter of the year.'
Elmer's was not the only Portland business to go through a post-Sept. 11 upheaval, of course. Exactly who the winners and losers were remains a matter of conjecture. Some businesses made money. Others Ñ most notably, travel agencies, hotels and restaurants Ñ suffered losses.
Elmer's was in a unique position. And Hale doesn't deny that the store made a lot of money.
'I wish it was for another reason,' he says.
Like other flag dealers, however, Hale isn't releasing sales figures. 'The whole flag industry has gotten real touchy about that now,' he says.
Yet there's no question that 9-11 touched off a phenomenal wave of patriotic fervor. In recent weeks, as the first anniversary of the attacks neared, flag sales climbed again.
'People are saying things like, 'I want something up by 9-11,' ' Hale says.
And the profile of people who buy U.S. flags has changed, he says. Previously, buyers tended to come from an older segment of the population Ñ World War II and Korean War veterans, people in their 50s and 60s. Now, he says, a sizable share of his customers are people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.
Other businesses besides Elmer's have done well in the wake of 9-11. PlaceWare Inc. is one.
In the days after the attacks, when U.S. airlines were grounded, the need to find alternative ways of conducting business face to face proved a big plus for teleconferencing. The trend has continued in the poor economy.
PlaceWare, which manages Web-based conferencing for clients, has doubled its business in the last year. During the fourth quarter alone, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which has an active Portland office, attracted 40 percent more customers than it had in the same period of 2000.
'People are looking to curb spending for travel and enhance productivity,' says Kent Kappen, PlaceWare's public relations manager. 'But we were seeing positive trends long before the economy went bad.'
Tripwire Inc.'s story is a little different. After 9-11, the Portland-based company braced for a run on its signature line of computer security systems, which promised to help thwart a feared wave of viruses and terrorism-related hacking offenses.
While Tripwire saw much interest in its products last fall and winter, large-scale computer attacks never came. Tripwire then hit a rocky patch this summer, laying off 10 workers in July.
Yet Marketing Vice President Dwayne Melancon acknowledges renewed attention to Tripwire's systems with this summer's introduction of the Homeland Security Act. And Tripwire now expects a year-end surge in business and a robust 2003.
Banking on the obvious need in the wake of 9-11 for more qualified airport screeners, Unicru Inc., pulled out all the stops to get airport security companies to sign contracts. The company makes software that helps employers screen applicants for hourly wage jobs.
The prospects looked good for the Portland company. But then Congress authorized creation of a federal airport security force.
'We didn't get any of those contracts,' laments Chris Reed, Unicru's vice president of marketing.
'It's not possible to use our products to tell if someone's a terrorist. It does show who's less likely to steal, who's most likely to show up on time. Basically, who are the better workers.'
Few are more familiar with the changes wrought by Sept. 11 than Portland's road warriors Ñ those whose jobs require them to travel a lot.
Sandi McDonough, a vice president with Portland-based PG&E National Energy Group who flies at least weekly, says she finds the griping of less-frequent fliers as they wait in line more irritating than the lines themselves.
Her modus operandi has changed considerably in the past year. She carries less luggage and on short trips even dispenses with a briefcase, putting papers into her suitcase instead.
For longer trips, 'I check more than I ever have before,' McDonough says. 'The other thing I do differently is fly the night before instead of in the morning, if I have to be at the airport so much earlier.
'I think U.S. airport security now is better than European (airports),' she adds. 'It's much more intense.'
On a recent trip to Germany and France, she says, she didn't have to show identification before she boarded the airplane.
The veteran traveler gives Portland International Airport high marks.
'PDX now has one of the best systems for getting people through; their system is very good, and I have been to a lot of airports.'
On the other hand, Oregon Public Utility Commissioner Joan Smith says she flies several times a month and sees no improvements at all in security, although she calls post-Sept.-11 flying 'more annoying.'
One time recently, she says, she was waiting in line behind former NBA center and TV commentator Bill Walton, 'and the two guards were so beside themselves over Bill being in line that I could have been armed with grenades and they would never have noticed.'
Smith does offer one positive note: 'They don't lose your luggage as much.'