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New PCC center tries to build jobs

College program runs like a business to help small businesses
by: JAIME VALDEZ Micah Taylor practices chest compressions on a mannequin as Eline Halvorson assists at the CLIMB Center for Advancement, run by Portland Community College for professional and business development.

Three years ago, Todd Roll's approach to organizing local bike tours was as simple as possible. He would haul four bikes to Old Town on his Honda Civic, park where his customers were waiting, and take off from there.

Today, Roll owns Pedal Bike Tours at 133 S.W. Second Ave. He supervises nine employees who lead up to six tours a day, some involving dozens of riders. They go as far as Yamhill County's wine country and out along the road in the Columbia River Gorge.

'The goal is to bring in $250,000 this year, but there's a good chance of doing better than that,' says Roll, whose business includes individual bike rentals and a gift shop.

Roll credits much of his success to the Small Business Development Center operated by Portland Community College. Roll says he knew nohing about running a business when he started the tours, but has learned the nuts and bolts about operating his company from the center's staff. Roll is taking the Small Business Management course at the the SBDC's new home, the CLIMB Center for Advancement, 1626 S.E. Water Ave.

'I'm learning the building blocks of running a business. I want to avoid the kind of big mistake that puts a lot of small companies out of business,' says Roll.

When politicians talk about creating jobs, they usually propose pumping large amounts of tax money into big infrastructure projects or emerging industries, such as solar panel manufacturing. But PCC has found success working one-on-one with professionals looking to upgrade their skills and small business owners who want to expand their companies.

As the popular community college celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is finding a new way to help the economy through the Small Business Development Center and other programs headquartered in a three-story red brick building across from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. (See the special section in this issue for more information on the anniversary.)

PCC built the building in 1997 as one of its workforce training centers. But last year the college shifted gears and relaunched it as a hub for professional and business development. It was renamed the CLIMB Center for Advancement, which stands for Continuous Learning for Individuals, Management and Business.

Among other things, the existing small-business center was moved from its offices on the third floor of the Lloyd Center. Training programs for health care professionals also moved there. An office was opened to offer training and other services to businesses at their job sites. All of the services differ from PCC's other workforce development programs, which focus on the unemployed, the underemployed and displaced workers.

PCC also remodeled the building to include 21 classrooms and administrative offices, along with an auditorium that can hold 119 people. With its large windows and eco-friendly plantings, the building looks newer and more contemporary than it is.

Rail connections

But the biggest change may have been philosophical. CLIMB Center administrators were told to think like business owners. Unlike PCC's other campuses, they are not given an amount of money to spend every year. Instead, they have to generate their budget by selling their services to those who need them.

'It's a bit challenging being a business inside a college. We have to think like a business owner, which means what we offer has to be practical, not theoretical,' says Executive Director Connie Plowman.

For such a new concept, the CLIMB Center has been remarkably successful. Plowman estimates that during its first year, more than 3,000 people have either come to the center or received its services at other locations. They include people who have enrolled in classes, attended conferences and contracted for assistance at their businesses.

Plowman says she and other CLIMB Center employees are always looking ahead to figure out the next trend they can help with. The newest program is on Nutritional Therapy, a growing priority for those trying to reduce the epidemic of obesity and the growth of such related chronic diseases as heart disease and diabetes. It was recently accredited by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, which will allow graduates of the program to take the organization's board exam in holistic nutrition.

'Once they pass their exam, they have to complete 500 hours of practice and then they will become truly certified,' said Sharmila Bose, coordinator of Nutritional Therapy. 'The career options are numerous. They can freelance, set up their own consulting business as a nutritional therapist, work for one of the health food stores, a chiropractor, a naturopathic physician, or start teaching. There are really lots of options once they finish.'

The CLIMB Center's location is symbolic of its mission. The area around OMSI - known as the in the area known as the Central Eastside Industrial Sanctuary - is rapidly changing. Two new rail lines are under construction there. They are the eastside extension of the Portland Streetcar and the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project, both of which will connect the area to the rest of the city.

Access for the rail lines includes the first new bridge over the Willamette River in 40 years that will bring MAX trains, streetcars, TriMet buses, pedestrians and bicyclists to within blocks of the center.

The area is also part of the Innovation Quadrant, a Portland planning district that includes the Oregon Health and Science University campus on Marquam Hill, Portland State University, OHSU's Center for Health and Healing and its coming satellite in South Waterfront, and both OMSI and the CLIMB Center. The idea is to encourage all of the institutions to work together on creative ideas that will ultimately help the economy.

'The exact roles have yet to be determined, but it can be incredibly effective,' says Plowman.

As part of its commitment to working with the city, the center has donated the northern edge of property to the Route to the River project being undertaken by the Bureau of Environmental Services. It is installing bioswales and other stormwater management facilities along Southeast Clay Street, which currently carries large quantities of untreated rainwater to the Willamette River.