Dependable employees, Obamacare questions among teams' discoveries

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tony Cunningham and Alma Flores chat with business owner Brendan Yee of Belle Furniture during the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce's Business Walk to gauge business owners' feelings on the economy and the local business climate.You couldn’t blame business owners for thinking volunteers who darkened their doors Thursday, May 15, were campaign workers canvassing for this week’s primary election, but the only thing Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce representatives lobbied for was feedback.

Twenty-seven teams of two headed out Thursday morning, May 15, with the goal of visiting as many as 500 Beaverton-area businesses to find out what they considered the good, bad and possibly ugly of doing business in the city. Specifically, the Business Walk volunteers gathered information to discover what resources existing companies needed to commit to as well as flourish in the area.

“They had a great time,” said Lorraine Clarno, Beaverton chamber president and chief executive officer, of the volunteers. “They were very well received, for the most part. The volunteers felt it was a great learning experience. We found businesses in Beaverton we didn’t know existed.”

The three-hour blitz was part of a new Impact Beaverton initiative the Beaverton chamber and the city’s Community and Economic Development Department launched with the goal of retaining and expanding businesses in the community. Volunteers, which included Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle and the city’s new Economic Development Director Cheryl Twete, focused their efforts on lower-profile business locations away from downtown, including Cornell Oaks, Creekside Business Park, Parkside Business Park, Western and Arctic West and the South Office Building at The Round at Beaverton Central. Before volunteers headed out, businesses were given fair warning through postcards, which said to expect three questions from volunteers: 1) How is business? 2) How is doing business in Beaverton? and 3) What keeps you up at night — your No. 1 business challenge?

Clarno said the answers were as intriguing as they were consistent. The majority who responded indicated their business was good and growing, with a small number reporting frustrations in securing permits and processes through the city. Many cited difficulty in securing dependable employees.

“We heard that over and over,” Clarno said, “that, ‘We need people who can show up.’ We have some work to do there.”

Others reported problems establishing a financially stable foothold amid increasingly competitive markets with shrinking profit margins, and many continue to have doubts and confusion surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act and its implementation.

“They’re very concerned about the ACA, what it really is, what it’s going to mean,” she noted. “They’re having a difficult time making sound business decisions in that area. Oregon is in a unique place with serious website issues. The federal government is extending deadlines for individuals and businesses. It’s all become extremely murky.”

While the chamber-sponsored exercise missed its highest goal of hitting 500 business, it was for a legitimate reason.

“Unfortunately, a lot of them we found vacant. They’d either moved out or to another location,” Clarno said. “That gives us an opportunity, especially in the industrial parks, to know what (space) we have available for when we find a business that might be a good fit for an industrial park-type setting.”

Although the Business Walk marked the first time the chamber’s engaged in such a comprehensive door-to-door campaign, Clarno sees it as a new tool the Impact Beaverton initiative can use to tighten the connection between entrepreneurs and city leadership.

“It’s one of a number of things we hope to use to promote job retention and creation,” she said. “We’ll be reviewing outcomes. We’ll debrief and decide if we’re going to put on another one for this year. We’ll brainstorm more ideas.”

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