With $100,000 in the bank, the regional partnership known as Northwest Oregon Works (NOW) is poised to launch its local business development initiative, which hinges on clustering businesses according to industry or niche.

Players, including area chambers of Commerce, the Port of Astoria, the Economic Development Council of Tillamook County, the Northwest Oregon Regional Partnership, Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, Oregon Employment Department, Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center, Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, Governor's Northwest Oregon Economic Revitalization Team and Management Training Corporation (MTC), represent public and private entities in Clatsop, Tillamook, Columbia and western Washington counties.

They are modeling their economic revitalization project on a similar endeavor implemented in Clallam County, Wash., in 2004. At that time, former executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council Jim Haguewood led an industry cluster strategy called Clallam Networks that resulted in significant economic improvements to the county, including its removal from the Washington State Distressed County list in 2004 with the lowest employment rate in 30 years. Between 2001 and 2004, the county saw the creation of 9,000 jobs along with a 35 percent increase in retail sales.

Based on that experience, Haguewood established the ONE Group, which helps communities create comprehensive economic and business development strategies with an emphasis on industry clusters, business incubation and community branding and marketing.

Haguewood describes industry clusters as geographic concentrations of competing, complementary, or interdependent businesses that work with each other and/or have common needs for talent, technology, and infrastructure. Businesses included in the cluster may be both competitive and cooperative. They may compete directly with some members of the cluster, purchase inputs from other cluster members, and rely on the services of other cluster firms in the operation of their business.

He has worked with NOW to create a similar economic stimulation in Northwest Oregon.

With Haguewood's coaching, and the seeds of a budget in place, representatives of each participating county are busy identifying local business, or industry clusters. So far, the list includes food processing, tourism and hospitality, timber and wood products, alternative energy companies, trucking and transportation, seafood, agriculture (including nurseries), health care, metal fabrication, construction, boat-building, aviation and the creative enterprises.

The aviation cluster stems in large part from recent stepped-up activity at the Scappoose Airport, which "is attracting several companies involved with the construction of and support for aircraft," said Mary McArthur, Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District executive director.

As for the "creative enterprises" category, "there are not yet any absolute criteria for that definition," said McArthur. "It generally includes all companies that take their principal competitive advantage from a distinctive appearance, form, content, or sound embedded or embodied in their products or services. Such firms include artists and artisans, digital, media, and graphic arts, architectural, landscape, and graphic design, advertising, interior decorating, fashion apparel and fine furniture, and place-based and branded foods products plus all the sectors that supply, support, reproduce, distribute, and market their products such as music studios, publishers, galleries, dance studios, schools, guilds, and book stores."

In the ensuing weeks and months, those behind the initiative plan to host several NOW kick-off meetings, hire a project manager and recruit a representative of each cluster to sit on a "Council of Clusters" and act as a leader and liaison for the other businesses in his or her cluster.

"We're going to invite the world, but aggressively recruit business people from key industries in the county," said Christy Vail, Economic Development Council of Tillamook County executive director.

A steering committee formed in part to hire a project manager and draft a work plan and budget is comprised of representatives of all participating counties.

Of the $100,000 raised for the NOW initiative, $24,600 was contributed by Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties; $25,000 by the NW Economic Alliance; $9,100 by OECDD and $49,350 by the Governor's Strategic Training Fund. A $50,000 USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant is pending, added Vail.

For more information, contact McArthur at 503-228-5565, or Vail at (503) 842-2236.

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