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Small Business News

Issue: April 2017

Protect your small business from cyber security threats

At the February Small Business Council meeting, George Chamberlin, FBI Cyber Supervisor of the Portland division, joined the group to share tips and best practices on how small businesses can protect themselves from cyber security threats. Key points that Agent Chamberlin made during his presentation were that 1) small businesses are specific targets to cyber security threats, 2) most cyber security issues are discovered after a victim speakers out, making it vital that businesses report any cyber security issues, and 3) that there is a web portal that businesses can go on to report cyber security issues (see downloads for information on accessing the web portal).

Please take a moment to download and review the Small Business Cyber Security Threat Alert as well as the Digital Security Awareness and Prevention checklist to make sure you are doing everything necessary and possible to protect your business.

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Member Spotlight: Christopher Harris of BridgeTech IT

Christopher Harris of BridgeTech IT is a graduate of our Small Business Management Scholarship Program. We spoke to Chris about his experience in the program, and here are some of the highlights:

What is your business?
BridgeTech helps our customers businesses succeed and scale by providing them with a responsive and state of the art IT experience always aligned with the business.  We started BridgeTech out of the passion that all business should have access to a state of the art IT experience -- not only large enterprises. We achieve our mission by leveraging affordable cloud technologies and providing our customers with everything ranging from helpdesk to virtual CIO advisory, all as a cohesive team intimately integrated into their business.
What was the most important or surprising thing you learned from the Small Business Development Center program?
I realized without taking focused time out on a set schedule, like the SBDC class or coaching, we were staying too much in the execution and didn’t pop out to the high level to see what we were building, focus on strategy and enjoy the process of seeing the magic we were creating take shape.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame during this program?
I think at the start of the program we didn’t have complete clarity on who we were as a company and what could truly make us unique in the market. We knew we had “something special” and a strong mission but it was difficult for us to figure out how to identify, “package” and sell. Throughout the program we gradually started to see the strategic direction we should go in, which made for some very very tough decisions because deciding what ‘not to do’ is often harder than deciding what ‘to do.’
What are you doing differently as a result of what you learned?
We try and take focused time out to look at everything from a high level imagining the different elements that make up a business, and where we are strong and where we need to shore up. Our professor and coach during the course presented a ‘wheel’ model where we self-evaluated numerous areas of our business. This approach helped us visually see things as a whole and gave us a tool to continue to evaluate the lifeform that is our company and proactively focus on and develop the areas that need it rather than being in reactive mode. I think ultimately the experience will help us bring value to ourselves and as a result more value to our customers.
What are one or two key regional factors that you believe have led to your growth?
I believe businesses in the Northwest are local region oriented in their procurement and tend to use local regional vendors, products and service providers. They expect personable relationships rather than a ‘bulk’ feel. Our culture naturally filled this void very well. Being smaller with less resources than national or global competitors proved to be a strength not a weakness and we used being boutique, working highly hands on with a small list of customers as a competitive advantage. 

The other factor is that, due to the economic growth of the Pacific Northwest, the IT talent pool and services haven’t necessarily kept up with the overall business growth of the region, creating a void for truly highly qualified, personable and professional IT talent in Portland. We saw this as a huge opportunity to try and fill this need with a completely different style than what’s typically available. Our founders and engineers have spent their entire careers in Portland and the Pacific Northwest and we believe this has helped us understand the unique needs and dynamics of the region - I think we all lucked out growing up here having it gradually become the market it has become today.

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Entrepreneurs go next level with small business scholarship program

Twelve small businesses are taking advantage of scholarships recently awarded by the Alliance to participate in Portland Community College Small Business Development Center's Advanced Small Business Management Program. Thanks to support from Bank of America, these small businesses will complete a unique 10-month training program through the Small Business Development Center. The program covers topics such as employment, digital marketing, financial analysis and international trade, as well as one-on-one mentoring with registered business advisors. The scholarship also includes a two year Alliance membership.

Class of 2017:

Superior Tape and Label
Pips and Bounce
Hot Mama Salsa
AllSource Construction
Pan Pacific Lotus
Gaufre Gourmet/Gigi's Cafe
Precision Fiber
Anderson Krygier, Inc.
Rubbish Works
To The Point PDX

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Policies that may impact your small business

State Retirement Plan
The state is currently working on rules to implement the Oregon Retirement Savings Plan, which was passed by the Legislature in 2015. During the public comment period, the Alliance sent a letter advocating for the protection of small businesses, as well as urging that the rules do not make it more difficult for employers to adopt alternative plans, or create liabilities for employers or the state. 

The letter explained that these rules will have a disproportionate impact on small businesses and asked the state to consider tax incentives and/or credits to offset the cost of compliance. Additionally, the letter acknowledge that the U.S. Department of Labor created a safe harbor for state retirement plans – so long as certain conditions are met – so that participating employers and the state would not have liability under ERISA. It then raised concerns about whether some of the provisions in the draft rule comport with the safe harbor rules, such as:

  • The requirement that employers offer a plan to all employees within 90 days of employment in order to be eligible for an exemption from the state plan,
  • Whether the draft rules align with federal requirements for small employers offering Simple 401(k) plans, and
  • Ensuring the role of the employer is ministerial to comply with the safe harbor role.

Finally, the letter raised concerns about the lack of information regarding fees to cover administrative costs and the potentially significant amount to be deducted for paychecks. The Alliance will track implementation of the rules now that the public comment period is closed. 

Read the full letter.

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State Budget Deficit
The Alliance is part of an Oregon Business Plan coalition that has come together to advocate for a three-prong strategy to address the state's $1.6 billion budget deficit. Though the sate general fund is at an all-time high, costs are growing faster than new revenue. The approach to the budget includes 1) growing the economy; 2) slowing unsustainable growth in state spending, particularly related to public employee compensation and health care; and 3) considering new revenue tied to specific results, such as improved K-12 and higher education outcomes. 

The Oregon School Boards Association recently released polling which shows that voters believe the state’s unsustainable growth in costs must be addressed as the state deals with its fiscal challenges. With cost increases outpacing significant revenue growth, the Oregon Business Plan coalition is calling for legislators to first close the deficit through spending reform, then engage in conversations about new revenues targeted to specific investments.

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Workplace Rules
The Alliance is coordinating with other business organizations to engage in workplace-related legislation, such as paid family leave, pay equity and predictive scheduling. In accordance with the “do no harm” platform in the Oregon Business Plan, the Alliance is working to shape or oppose proposals that could negatively impact small businesses. In all cases, the Alliance will advocate for statewide preemption on these issues to avoid a patchwork of inconsistent policies at the local level.

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Small business advising extended indefinitely

To continue supporting small business growth, the Portland Business Alliance has indefinitely extended its free small business advising sessions. The one-hour sessions with a professional business advisor can cover any aspect of growing a healthy business, such as hiring practices, financial management and other topics.

Advising is open to all small business owners, including both Alliance members and non-members, and is structured for businesses of all sizes. Sessions are offered every Tuesday by appointment only and located at the Alliance office. For more information and to sign up, please contact Rebecca McCulloch.

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