City officials last week planted seeds for a new Economic Gardening Pilot Program that will nurture businesses and help them flourish.

The City Council earmarked $95,750 to pay for the data tools, computer equipment, staff training and BETA testing needed to get the program off the ground in the coming months.

'I think this is a step in the right direction,' said Mayor Rob Drake.

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

'Without a supply of industrial and commercial land - those of us that are engaged in this process must focus on retention and expansion,' said Lorraine Clarno, president of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce.

'We believe, that with this pro-active business expansion initiative, local investment and technical assistance program for all sectors of business in Beaverton, the result will be job growth and wealth generation - and with that, a stronger and healthier community.'

Drake agreed.

'When people are working, the whole community operates more effectively,' Drake added. 'We hope that this pilot program will provide meaningful services to businesses so that they can grow and be more profitable.'

Potential is huge

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 potential is huge,' said Council President Dennis Doyle. 'I'm excited to see this thing get going.'

The implementation of the pilot program marks a major shift in the city's past economic development strategies that focussed on specific projects like the launch of the Open Technology Business Center and re-development of downtown.

'This is an exciting opportunity for more public and private partnerships,' Clarno said.

Partners for the program include the city, chamber, Portland Community College's Small Business Development Center, Senior Corps of Retired Executives and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department.

With the council's April 9 approval of the pilot program, the city will purchase the tools and hardware that will need to be in place before services can be offered.

The program is expected to begin marketing its services to local businesses late this year.

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