For practical reasons, as well as to maintain sanity, entrepreneurs seek each other out for advice, partnerships and support.
But connecting with government employees, elected officials, and other public figures who are in a unique place to help local businesses can be just as important, advises Brad Given, director of operations at Renewable Energy Composite Solutions in Vancouver. The Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and Democratic state Rep. Jim Jacks were instrumental in helping Christensen Shipyards find public funding to launch a wind energy division, Given said.
“Networking within your community helps you figure out who’s going to give you contracts and lets them know who you are,” Given said.
Jacks is one of five local leaders that The Columbian identified as “people you should know” if you’re starting or growing a business in Clark County. CREDC’s Bonnie Moore, Alisa Pyszka with the city of Vancouver, Jan Harte with the Small Business Development Center at Washington State University and VaNessa Duplessie, an entrepreneur and board member of Leadership Clark County, are also included in the five.
The list is intended to be a starting point for businesses; these five are available to the public, either because it’s their job or their passion to serve the community:
Harte is a key contact for start-ups in the later planning stages before they officially launch. Harte, a small business specialist at Washington State University’s Small Business Development Center, sits down with business owners to plan how they’ll manage production, operations, marketing and financing.
“I work at a strategic level, getting them focused and clear about how their opportunity meets personal and business goals,” Harte said.
In the financing phase, for example, Harte might help a business owner put together a loan proposal or a prospectus for potential investors. Or, she might dissect their market analysis to determine if the business opportunity is large enough to sustain business growth.
Her counseling is free, funded by taxpayers, but she limits her clients to businesses with the most potential to grow and create jobs in Clark County.
“We talk about the big-picture approach, and once it’s more fine-tuned, they create other networks to help them accomplish some piece of that,” Harte said.
Once a business plan is well under way, Pyszka can offer assistance with permitting and licensing. Pyszka, the city’s business development manager, has been instrumental in promoting a new development strategy that takes focus off of recruiting big businesses and shifts it to supporting and growing small businesses.
“Economic Development 2.0 is a shift from ‘chasing smokestacks’ to innovation and entrepreneurs,” Pyszka said. “The key is to break down the (government) silos.”
This year Pyszka set up the city’s new pre-lease program, which brings together representatives from city planning, building, fire and permitting departments to consult with a business on a space before they sign a lease. She’s now working on a pre-loan website, a one-stop resource to help businesses find all the information they need to apply for a loan.
Moore is the go-to person at the Columbia River Economic Development Council for connecting Clark County businesses with resources inside and outside the community. She doesn’t provide the services directly, but instead refers businesses to programs that meet their needs such as hiring and retention, supply chain logistics, employee training, streamlining and fundraising.
“Businesses don’t always think to call on the public network, but many marketing resources are available for businesses that they’re already paying for with corporate taxes,” said Moore, director of business services at CREDC.
When the U.S. Department of Labor provides $959,000 in June to help train Southwest Washington workers for jobs in renewable energy manufacturing, for example, CREDC and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council will help find businesses and workers to participate.
Innovate Clark County
Who are your key contacts in the business community? Tell us online at Innovate Clark County, and help build The Columbian’s community for entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and others interested in fostering business innovation and growth in Clark County. In partnership with PubTalk, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council’s bimonthly networking event, the site offers entrepreneurs a place to connect and interact with each other. You’ll also find relevant content, such as ‘Five people you should know’, potential funding sources and business tips specific to Clark County.
To join the community, use your profile on The Columbian’s website to log on to http://www.columb..., then use the Q&A forum, blogs and story comments to connect with other members. Or find us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. For more information, contact Libby Tucker at 360-735-4553 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“If (companies) didn’t have this money and wanted to diversify, they’d have to figure it out on their own,” Moore said.
Duplessie is one of Clark County’s “connectors,” Jacks said. Duplessie, who campaigned in 2008 for state representative as a Democrat in Washington’s 18th District, is a serial entrepreneur and a managing partner at Ridge Partners, a Vancouver-based consulting firm that plans networking events for the software industry. She also serves on the board of Leadership Clark County, a 10-month training program for community leaders.
“To be perceived as good at what you do, you need to be a leader,” Duplessie said.
She considers herself an activist entrepreneur and is currently organizing a series of free webinars for small businesses on how to develop a growth strategy, create a marketing plan and make the most of your web presence.
Duplessie has her own list of people to know in Clark County, which she uses to advise businesses on the resources they need to grow.
“My goal is to be a business liaison,” Duplessie said. “I’m not an expert in everything.”
Making connections between different kinds of businesses is one way that Jacks approaches community building in his district, he said. Having a tight-knit business community benefits Clark County as a whole, by creating deals that can lead to job creation and economic growth.
He looks for people he calls “community connectors,” who may have different areas of expertise but share a common interest in supporting growth and change in Vancouver. Then he links them up.
“It’s not my job to go sign a deal, but to tell them about this thing I heard about,” Jacks said.
This was the concept behind the legislator’s 50 businesses in 50 days tour. Jacks met with one Clark County business every day, taking notes and asking questions. He now carries around a manila folder of his notes, dated and cross-referenced. To jog his memory, he pulls the file and explains why that person would make a good contact.
More than one business has benefited from Jacks’ match-making. John Geigle, owner of Masterpiece Models in Vancouver, says his meeting with Jacks led to an introduction with the Washington State Trucking Association and a deal with Signature Transport to test his fuel-saving invention on one of their trucks.