BIZTIPS - November 20, 2005

Biz Tips: Lessons from Europe
Sunday, November 20, 2005
By Art Hill

Following the recent editorial in this newspaper "Note to Croatians: Take Art Hill, please!" I would like to thank all of my readers for your support. I think your offer of a one-way ticket was very generous. If I can't raise the return fare, this column will be coming to you every other week from Zagreb.

As the editorial went on to say, we have a lot to learn from each other on both sides of the Atlantic. Besides the obvious, like economic and social reality finally coming to France, there are many subtle lessons to be shared by small businesses regardless of their country of origin.

The first is that America is blessed with access to our elected officials. I'm not talking about the headline-grabbing campaign contributions of lobbyists. I'm talking about our ability to pick up the phone and talk with our Mayor or our state senators and representatives. In preparing his last budget, our Governor invited detailed input by e-mail through his website. Our U.S. senators and congressmen can't answer every call or e-mail themselves, but their staffers can, and do.

That's not the experience of businesses and individuals in many other countries. Two Croatian mayors who recently visited Pendleton told us that they can't get access to members of Parliament from their own parties. It's still top-down, and that's not good for business.

Another lesson - in most areas of the world, small business is big business, or at least majority business. As we've pointed out, 96% of Oregon's businesses have fewer than 20 employees. In Croatia, virtually all businesses fit that description. So whether it's in the U.S. or Europe, it's small business that has the clout to drive down employers' healthcare costs, reform workmen's comp, and develop new sources of capital. We have to speak with one voice. But how?

One way is through our Chambers of Commerce. The Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce doubled its membership in two years. The Pendleton Chamber Board is clear and united in advocating for their members. Ask your Chamber execs how they can support your business, and how you can support them.

A final lesson is that the world is small (or flat if you're a fan of Thomas Friedman). U.S. AID sponsors economic development exchanges like ours with Croatia because the whole world is a market for U.S. goods and services. One of our visitors from Zagreb bought new bathroom fixtures here, and another would have liked the plastic bug shield on the front of my truck if it had been for sale. Opportunities for U.S. companies? You bet.

So if I wind up going to Croatia but can't afford the trip back, you can be sure we'll all learn something, even if it's just the power of political access ... or an editorial headline.

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