Join Us: Better Businesses for a Better Portland

Just over a year ago we announced the Portland Independent Chamber of Commerce. Today, we are relaunching as Business for a Better Portland and sharing what we’ve learned so far along with our plans for the future.

Three assumptions defined our last year of work:

  1. The health and prosperity of Portland’s businesses depend on the health and prosperity of all of its citizens.
  2. New tools and ways of organizing can mobilize previously unengaged employees and entrepreneurs.
  3. The business community would do well to approach community engagement from a place of curiosity and humility by asking organizations and initiatives working on pressing issues “what are you working on?” and “how can we help?”

In collaboration with our small volunteer board, countless advocate partners, and many members of the Portland business community, we set out to see what was possible. We experimented with a new model of engagement from the business community, one that marries the efficiency of technology with the power of grassroots organizing to create social change.

With your help, we issued ten calls to action: measurable, impactful goals achievable within a month’s time. We were immediately encouraged by a groundswell of participation. Some of the causes we championed — like promoting entrepreneurs at the PitchBlack competition and Vision Zero — found success in 2016. Other efforts were not clear wins. We fell short of our goals around event attendance and were not able to convince the City Council to make open civic data a priority.

For every conversation, donation, signature, share on social media, and phone bank call: thank you! We are so grateful for you and our remarkable community. We are proud of what we achieved together, which includes:

  • Over 800 people mobilized to take action through donations, event attendance, and volunteer participation.
  • 10 official Calls to Action.
  • Over $40K raised for the local community.
  • Over 5,000 post reads.
  • 200K+ impressions on Twitter and 6K+ on Facebook.

WHAT WE LEARNED

1. There is no silver bullet. Technology is never the singular solution in any problem domain and civic engagement is no exception. Working with existing bureaucratic systems requires patience and a willingness to learn about how those systems operate. Still, we’ve discovered areas for innovation. For example: when we allowed Portland businesses to sign our testimony to City Council by simply tweeting a pen emoji (🖊️), dozens signed on. We can’t change bureaucracy, but we can act as an adapter between traditional institutional processes and newer methods of collaboration.

2. It’s time to branch out. Our founding steering committee and many of our early donors are rooted in the tech industry. We learned that, traditionally, engaging these types of businesses in civic engagement is not an easy task, and we are proud of and grateful for the leaders who have stepped up. But this organization isn’t just for tech startups, and it’s not just for established companies that can afford to write a big check for membership dues each year. Today we’re engaging with businesses across sectors, from grocery stores to design studios, and many other types of companies from startups to multi-generational family businesses.

3. There is overwhelming enthusiasm for this organization. We received hundreds of inquiries from interested businesses, community organizations, and members of government at many levels who are eager to work with us. Nearly every meeting started with a heartfelt expression of gratitude and desire to collaborate. Their prevailing response was: “we’ve been waiting for an organization like yours.”

4. We have a focused policy agenda. We’ve covered a variety of issues in our Calls to Action by promoting the work already being done by organizations throughout our community. However, two themes were consistent: our commitment to promoting equity, and prosperity for all. In 2017 we will continue to focus our limited resources on these two priorities.

WHAT’S NEXT

After our first year of existence, we are evolving into a new business organization with a new name. PICOC is now Business For A Better Portland, a registered 501(c)6 focused on 5 key issue areas. We’d like to thank visionary business leaders, our Founding Members, for providing the time, effort, and capital to make this possible, including:

  • Leslie Carlson, Brink Communications
  • Gun Denhart, founder, Hanna Andersson
  • Mat Ellis, founder and CEO, Cloudability
  • Monica Enand, founder and CEO, Zapproved
  • Luke Kanies, founder, Puppet
  • Cabel Sasser, founder, Panic
  • Kimberly Pray and Kate Kilberg, Catalyst Law

Part of building a sustainable group is bringing in partners who can help us work more effectively with the community and policy makers. To that end, we’ve engaged Ashley Henry, who brings two decades of policy and community-building experience focused on social justice and environmental well-being. She will engage our members who wish to bring new voices from the business community participating in city and regional public affairs.

For 2017, our priority issue areas include:

1. Access and affordability. Having access to a safe, stable, and affordable home is essential for our companies and community to thrive. As employers, we see addressing the housing and homelessness crisis as essential to the future success of our companies and our city.

2. Workforce development diversity and inclusion. The strongest performing companies require leaders and employees from a variety of backgrounds. To achieve this goal, we will support programs and initiatives that aim to achieve a more equitable workforce.

3. Shared prosperity and economic mobility. We will leverage the strength of established businesses to help entrepreneurs cultivate success, and learn from these entrepreneurs in return. While we cannot erase the inequities that were created by historic economic development strategies, we can be a part of developing and implementing strategies that are inclusive of and beneficial to Portland’s diverse communities.

4. Safe streets for all. It is time to put an end to the disturbing increase in traffic deaths, which disproportionately occur in neighborhoods with larger minority and low-income populations. We must achieve Vision Zero and ensure that every Portlander has access to safe, walkable and bikeable streets.

5. Increased connection and collaboration with elected officials. We believe that business can and should be a partner with government, not an adversary. The complex challenges our city faces call for a new approach to policy engagement that is collaborative and advances the outcomes that will benefit not only our businesses but the community as a whole.

Today, we are asking you to join us on this journey and send a strong signal to Mayor Wheeler and City Commissioners that Portland is ready for a new way of doing business, one that believes that better businesses will be built as we build a better Portland for all.

This spring, we are hoping to bring aboard 100 new members. Whether you are an employee eager to get involved or an established business owner who shares our values, join Business for a Better Portland today.

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HOW WE PERFORMED

Here is a recap of each call to action, the organizations we partnered with, how we performed, and what we learned.

✅ “This black-owned Portland business will disappear without your help.(February)
Collaboration with: Portland Development Commission, Sons of Haiti, Boise Neighborhood Association
What: Raise $6,095 to cover the cost of bringing the Sons of Haiti Food Cart Pod up to code
Met?: Yes. $10,275 raised.
What we learned: There is untapped potential for the existing business community to support the economic prosperity of all businesses by leveraging crowdfunding campaigns and easy ways to lend a hand.

✅ “Understanding Homelessness In Portland” (March)
Collaboration with: Welcome Home Coalition, Street Roots, JOIN, Panic
What: Bring together 50 attendees, many from the tech sector, to learn about Portland’s housing crisis
Met?: Yes. 55 attendees and $3,000 raised for Yes for Affordable Homes
What we learned: Employees in new sectors are eager for education around local policy issues. Hosting these events at industry locations sends a strong signal to employees that business leaders prioritize participation.

❌ “Why Portland Needs Open Data” (April)
Collaboration with: Hack Oregon
What: Include the open data amendment in the city’s comprehensive plan
Met?: No. We lost the inclusion of the amendment 2 -3.
What we learned: Advocates for Open Data need to focus on how access to data has real-world effects on equity.

✅ “Help Teens Bring Ethnic Studies to Portland Public Schools(May)
Collaboration with: APANO
What: Include ethnic studies classes in the Portland Public School Curriculum
Met?: Yes. We collected signatures and support from 100+ PICOC supporters endorsing the initiative and the School Board passed the changes unanimously
What we learned: It is critical for the business community to understand the priorities of youth leaders, how they are already organizing, and what we can do to help them succeed.

❌ “Street Roots Newspaper New Local Bussinesses’ Help(June)
Collaboration with: Street Roots
What: An additional $3500 of in-kind donations for Street Roots’ annual fundraiser
Met?: No.
What we learned: We underestimated the difficulty of organizing a fundraiser and keeping track of donations in a shared, anonymous Google Spreadsheet. In the future, we can present supporters with a more straightforward ask.

✅ “Help Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center Relocate(July)
Collaboration with: Independent Publishing Resource Center
What: Raise $20,000 to cover the IPRC’s relocation after due to a 3x increase in rent
Met?: Yes. $21,822 raised.
What we learned: While our Call to Action raised awareness around the issue there is room for improvement when it comes to concretely measuring the financial impact of our supporters. Also, we have to work more closely with the arts and culture organizations and clearly articulate how this vital groups contribute to our businesses’ success.

✅ “Let’s Support Portland’s Black Entrepreneurs(August)
Collaboration with: PitchBlack
What: Register 50 people for PitchBlack and raise funds to award to the winners
Met?: Yes. 50+ people registered, $7K (of total $12K) contributed from PICOC business supporters
What we learned: Creating easy ways for the business community to contribute in time, talent, and treasure to the next generation of Portland’s entrepreneurs builds lasting relationships.

✅ “It’s time for Portland businesses to step up and demand safe, walkable and bikable streets(September)
Collaboration with: Oregon Walks, Safe Routes to School 
What: Pass Vision Zero to ensure safe, walkable, and bikable streets
Met?: Yes. Endorsement from 52 local businesses collected; PICOC testified before Council; Vision Zero Action Plan approved by Council
What we learned: The Action Plan is a great start, but much more will be needed to achieve Vision Zero and our mode-share goals. Portland businesses can work collaboratively with advocates for safe, equitable and sustainable transportation.

✅ “XOXO x JOIN Fundraiser(September, bonus)
Collaboration with: XOXO festival, JOIN
What: Raise $5K to help one homeless family off the streets
Met?: Yes. $50,722 raised from 436 XOXO festival attendees and supporters
What we learned: In March, we set an unstated fundraising goal to help one family off the street. While we didn’t meet our goal at that event, Ashley, Andy, and JOIN collaborated to meet the goal later in the year thanks to the help of XOXO festival attendees.

❌ “Portland Needs Affordable Homes, and Your Support(October)
Collaboration with: Welcome Home Coalition
What: Attract 15 volunteers to phone bank in support of the Yes for Affordable Homes bond measure
Met?: No. Around ~5 volunteers attended. However some of our supporters were financial contributors to the campaign, and we congratulate Welcome Home team on a successful campaign.
What we learned: Much work remains around mobilizing our supporters to show up for traditional grassroots organizing events. We remain committed to exploring how to make this “old fashioned organizing” easy, appealing, and fun to younger, busy Portlanders.

✅ “Portland’s parking policies are bad for rent and bad for business. Let’s fix them.(November)
Collaboration with: Portlanders for Parking Reform
What:
Collect 50 signatures from business leaders to eliminate parking minimums
Met?: Yes. 52 signatures collected. PICOC submitted in-person and written testimony to Council. Measure passed 3 -2.
What we learned: Communicating that measures like this are important to the business community is critical. These conversations should take place even earlier, and PICOC can help to facilitate these connections.