THE INC. LIFE

Is Crime Killing Portland’s Small Businesses?

Is your location doing the same to your business?

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BY Gene Marks - 04 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When I think of Portland I think of overcast skies, cool music, Fred Armisen, food trucks and the beautiful and historic Sentinel Hotel. I don't think about crime. But come to think of it, the last time I was there I did notice an unusually high number of homeless people in the downtown area, and wondered how the city is dealing with the problem. Unfortunately, as Fox News reports, it's not so good, particularly for the city's small businesses.

Last week, about twenty small business owners in the city met with a representative of the mayor's office to complain about incidents that are hindering their ability to do business. A merchant said she had her life threatened by a person who was previously arrested "dozens of times" and other store owners complained about panhandling, aggressive behavior and break-ins, according to this report on local television station KOIN.

Things have gotten so bad that one company's CEO is considering leaving the city due to numerous car-break-ins, threats to many of his 50 employees and even human waste dumped on his company's front door.

"I am so concerned about the safety of our employees at (our) headquarters that we are taking the next 90 days to re-evaluate our location decision," Tim Boyle, the CEO of Columbia Sportswear, wrote last month in The Oregonian. "A few days ago, one of our employees had to run into traffic when a stranger outside our office followed her and threatened to kill her. On other occasions our employees have arrived at work only to be menaced by individuals camping in the doorway." Employees at his company are now mockingly referring to car-breakins as a "laptop donor program."

The owner of a well-known jewelry store who has operated in the city for the past twenty years told another local television station that she's recently experienced a dramatic loss of sales, mainly because of her customers' fears of shopping downtown. Recently, her security cameras filmed a homeless person defecating in front of her door. "It's very difficult to do business here right now. Our customers are afraid to come in," she said.

Merchants blame the lawlessness on the city's lack of consequences for repeat offenders. The mayor has promised to ramp up policing and plans a renewed effort to address chronic offenders and additional security training for shoppers, business owners and their employees.

But Boyle and the others are right - the situation in downtown Portland is untenable. So what do they do? And what would you do? Moving is expensive. Changing a location could lose long-time customers and nearby employees. It's also a trick public relations challenge - "local business abandoning the city" isn't the kind of thing a CEO likes to see in the news.

But you know what? It really is about location, location, location. For B2C merchants like the jewelry store owner, foot traffic is critical for profits. Customers are not going to shop at her store if they don't feel comfortable. For B2B companies like Columbia Sportswear, providing a safe work environment for its employees is critical for growth. Good businesses choose good locations - not just to draw customers but to attract talented people. If your location isn't doing the same then it may be time for you to consider a different one. Sure, there are costs - but when your profits and growth are at risk, the long term benefits cannot be debated.