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Chamber takes a walk on the business side

Most Hillsboro business owners pleased with conditions


The Greater Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce declares on its website that its mission is “to promote business by providing information, services and advocacy.” Two months ago the chamber showed it could talk the talk and walk the walk when it conducted its inaugural “Business Walk,” an all-day event in which 60 volunteers split into teams of two or three and toured more than 150 Hillsboro businesses.

Volunteers met with business owners to discuss the health of the local economy and ways it could be improved.

“We always want to hear from businesses all the time,” said chamber President Deanna Palm. “But this is when we go out and really try to reach out to them.”

Two weeks ago, the chamber released its official report of results from the 2014 Business Walk. The report revealed that, of the 150 businesses interviewed, 61 percent said they were doing well; 35 percent said their business conditions were fair; and 4 percent said they were faring poorly.

“I think it’s encouraging that we have such good feedback,” said Paul Sander, a public accountant for Fordham Goodfellow LLP, an accounting firm interviewed two months ago. “I think Washington County in general is leading the charge to make its economic success statewide.”

Bob Rollinger, a Realtor and broker at Summa Real Estate, was among the volunteers who walked and talked in May.

“Overall people were really happy with how their business was going,” Rollinger said.

Rollinger added that he believes Hillsboro’s success springs from its many resources.

“The Bonneville Dam gives us very low water and electricity prices, which encourages high tech firms like Intel to come in,” he said. “When these businesses grow, others grow with it. We’ve got apartment complexes that are at 99 percent capacity due to new workers for Intel. Plus, our city staff and Chamber of Commerce cooperate well. This makes business expansion easier and makes Washington County the economic engine of the state.”

While the future looks bright for many Hillsboro businesses, others are still struggling. Ironically, some of these problems are a direct result of Hillsboro’s rapid growth.

“We’re not doing too well,” said Vicki Ohlmann, who owns Orenco Station Cyclery, Wrench Bench and the Pannier Deli with her husband, Ed.

“We need help with advertising and we don’t have any parking space because of the construction going on around Orenco Sation,” she explained.

Infrastructure improvements to roads and parking spaces were one of the issues discussed the most by business owners.

“Our community’s growing quickly,” said Angela Matteson, one of the volunteers who walked and also the owner of the local distributor for Advocare, a health supplement company. “When more people come in, housing prices go up and traffic increases, which lengthens the commute for workers and discourages shoppers.”

Despite growth pains, it seems local business owners couldn’t be happier with the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Hillsboro overall.

“Deanna’s a great person,” said Ohlmann. “I absolutely enjoyed talking with the chamber. We love living in Orenco, and we like the social atmosphere of people passing by on the street.”

“I’m not a huge company like Intel,” said Robert Klein, president of Q&D Manufacturing Corp., a manufacturing and distribution firm. “So the fact that people would take their time to come to my business to talk with me and ask questions shows the business-friendly environment which makes Hillsboro such a good place to work.”

The chamber plans on hosting two of the business walks a year, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 9. Until then, the chamber hopes to start a dialogue between the city and businesses on the issues discussed so far.

“We have several initiatives under way to help with transportation planning and signage for better advertising,” said Palm. “We don’t have anything inked yet though. There are still a lot of conversations we have to have before we can start making changes.”