BIZTIPS - February 22, 2009

by Art Hill

BIZ TIPS: Change Attitude to Weather Recession

February 22, 2009

Regena Stockton, owner of Rock’n G Ranch handcrafted furniture and art in Pendleton, started a meeting of downtown business owners by quipping that after last December’s storms clobbered the holiday shopping season, she almost closed the door and walked away. But then she said something we can all learn from. She decided that the worst of times could be the best of times. She saw opportunity where others saw disaster. Instead of running, she re-ordered, and like two other business owners in the room, she saw a record increase in January business.

Another local business owner recently got a promotional refrigerator magnet in the mail. It said something like “Increase your spending power.” She promptly crossed out “spending,” wrote “earning,” and stuck the magnet on her fridge.

Amid state budget cuts, enrollment at BMCC is up 12% over the previous year. Seems like many business owners, college students, and smart investors understand that during adverse economic times, you do everything possible to invest in your business and yourself. The goal is not only to weather the storm, but to come out leading the pack when the economy starts growing again.

Years ago I sold more industrial electronics when times were tough than when they were good. Companies were investing in automation and new product development so they could emerge as efficient, low-cost producers when the economy picked up.

Recently over lunch, my daughter Meg summarized it in a few words. There’s been a blind rush to consume – anything and everything. Suddenly we’re seeing a lot less consumption, but also a shift to higher quality. The world didn’t need eight lines of General Motors cars. Oldsmobile is gone, and Pontiac and Saturn may be going. Toyota has passed GM as the world’s #1 car maker. Less is more. Quality wins. As nationally recognized Portland economist Joe Cortright said at this week’s Pendleton economic outlook luncheon, the world will look very different after this recession.

In fact, the business world already looks different. It’s not pretty, but there are windows of opportunity. If you’re a contractor, look for jobs coming out for bid with Federal stimulus money. If you’re a homeowner, look at converting to solar hot water while incentives cover all but a fraction of the total cost. If you’re a business owner, put resources into developing new products and market channels you didn’t need when times were good. The Small Business Administration just got millions of dollars to lower the cost of borrowing, restructure debt, and increase loan guarantee amounts. If you want to re-tool your skills for the new economy, Pell grants were just increased along with tuition tax credits and even cash incentives for low income students.

That’s a partial list of opportunities. Others are coming fast as federal and state lawmakers figure out how best to put stimulus money to work. It won’t be painless, and the national debt levels needed to pay for it will be an economic drag for decades. But the most powerful recovery tool is completely under your control – attitude. Too bad store owner Gena Stockton or economist Joe Cortright weren’t calling the shots at Lehman Brothers or Chrysler back in 2007. Now the only way out of this mess is to take one opportunity at a time and make every one count.

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