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Economic gardening helps businesses grow

City program nurtures companies to stimulate growth, develop jobs
by: Jonathan House, Ron May, CEO of Pinnacle Bank, is one of the program’s first participants.

When Ron May hired a second business development officer for Pinnacle Bank, he was interested in developing a list of businesses for that person to call on for prospecting purposes.

Pinnacle's president and chief executive officer decided to give Beaverton's new Economic Gardening Program a try.

'The price was right,' May said.

The free program is designed to nurture existing businesses and provide them with specialized services to help them flourish.

'Our goal is to help our Beaverton-based businesses become more competitive, help them expand their operations and see if we can provide resources that would enable them to become more successful,' said Rob Pochert, Beaverton's economic development manager.

'When businesses are earning more money and are more profitable, hopefully they will create additional employment opportunities in the community.'

The new economic development strategy is expected to provide Beaverton businesses with tools and information that will give them a competitive edge, boosting the local economy in the process.

The idea of economic gardening originated in Littleton, Colo., in the late 1980s and has been implemented 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, Pochert said.

In Beaverton's case, the city last May began purchasing $94,000 worth of commercial database services including CoStar, Harris Info-Source, Marketplace Gold, Pro Active for Economic Development, GIS, ESRI Business Analyst and SRDS-List of Lists.

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

Pinnacle Bank, which primarily serves small businesses, business owners and professionals in the greater Beaverton area, is one of 20 companies that has utilized the city's new program since its launch late last year.

After working with economic development project coordinator Junichi Shibatani, the Pinnacle team was given a marketing list of businesses with the names and phone numbers of decision makers.

'We've been using the list and it's been very helpful to make those person-to-person contacts,' May said.

The city, in partnership with the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, has talked with 30 different companies, primarily in the manufacturing and service sectors, about participation in the program.

'Most have been interested in business-to-business contacts,' Pochert said. 'We've also provided a fair number of referrals to agencies like Portland Community College's Small Business Development Center.'

Becky Jarvis, office manager for Electronics Unlimited, was one of those interested in a business contact list.

Her family's home-based Beaverton company offers onsite computer service and repair for businesses and individuals in Washington County.

'One of the most helpful things the city did was pull data and narrow down our target market,' Jarvis said. 'They also gave me tips I never thought of for finding new business leads.'

She used the information for a mail direct marketing campaign, which she hopes will generate more business.

'It was a very positive experience,' Jarvis said. 'I'm glad the city is investing in something to help small businesses grow.

'There are a lot of businesses that could use this help.'

May agreed.

'I think it makes a lot of sense for the city to invest in assisting existing businesses,' he said. 'From my vantage point, the program is very valuable.'

Chamber leaders feel the same.

'One of our challenges is getting the word out,' said Evelyn Orr, operations and economic gardening manager for the chamber, who serves as the liaison between business leaders and the city.

'It's my hope that when businesses hear about the free tools available to them, they will connect with us, go through the process and walk away from the program with something that will be helpful to them.'

Putting the program in front of more business owners is a top priority for the Economic Gardening Program team.

'Our partnership with the chamber has been instrumental in getting the word out there,' Pochert said.

In the coming weeks, the city plans to continue efforts to market the program and talk with area business owners.

'All we ask in exchange for our services is that businesses check back with us in five years so we can see if the strategic information we provided is a success in helping them grow,' Pochert said.

Other partners for the program include PCC's Small Business Development Center, Senior Corps Of Retired Executives, WorkSource Oregon and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department.