Strictly Business: Practical dreamers prosper

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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It's testimony to the optimism and dynamism baked into the U.S. economy that so many people want to go into business for themselves, to breathe life into their own dreams and employ others along the way.

But it's an American dream with little patience for dreamers -- those with no plan, little resourcefulness and scant respect for seeking help instead of drowning in foolish individualism.

To be sure, plenty of practical dreamers are achieving success. An analysis by Dun & Bradstreet showed there are more than 23 million small companies in the U.S. employing nearly 81 million workers and producing annual sales of more than $6 trillion.

Impressive.

Historically, though, small-enterprise failure runs high. And even if you want to launch a small venture, the larger economy may decide otherwise. That same Dun & Bradstreet report showed that from 2007 to 2010 -- the blighted years of the Great Recession that saw Main Street get roughed up and Wall Street largely get away with it -- small-business failure rates skyrocketed by 40 percent.

Over the years, I've written a lot about small businesses. I don't possess the moxie to kick off a company. Risk and I don't go back a long way. Yet I admire those who've got the talent and nerve to take a calculated risk.

That includes Dixie Huey, founder and proprietor of Camas-based Trellis Growth Partners LLC, a small firm that provides marketing and communications services to makers of wine, spirits and fine foods. I wrote about Trellis in a story published in December 2012. Huey was open in describing her struggles, including the time she almost gave up.

But she didn't.

These days, Trellis blooms. Huey moved the company from her home in Camas to upper-story office space in the city's charming downtown. She's close to a brewery, a champagne lounge and an olive bar.

"We feel very much at home here," Huey says.

The "we" she refers to includes Janel Lubanski, project and media relations manager, and a new hire, Erin Stutesman, communications specialist and administrative assistant.

Huey anticipates that Trellis, founded in the summer of 2008, will bring in upwards of $220,000 in revenue this year -- its best year to date. She attributes her success, in part, to doing the thankless work of drawing up a business plan. "You must have a plan," she says. "Everyone says that, but hardly anyone has it."

And the thing about having a plan, Huey adds, is that "it allows you to dream."

She's not resting on her achievements, either. Just last week, Trellis was selected to participate in Washington State University Vancouver's Business Growth Mentor and Analysis Program. The student-conducted MAP program provides analyses and consulting services to small businesses to help them prosper.

Huey's willingness to reach out to the program exemplifies a profoundly important truth: nobody does it all on their own, either in business or in life.

Trellis is no corporate behemoth. Huey doesn't employ thousands of people or bend the political economy to her will. But it's millions of entrepreneurs like her who make a local community stronger, one sharp business decision at a time.

All because she's a dreamer -- a smart, practical, resourceful one.

Aaron Corvin: 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com