City of Vancouver set to launch business resource website

ipad_withwebsiteThe city of Vancouver, in collaboration with 13 nonprofit partners, has published a new website devoted to growing business in Clark County.

Officially launching January 23, will provide inspiration, strategy and guidance for anyone looking to start, maintain or expand their business. Additional information will be available for entrepreneurs working to commercialize inventions.

Janet Harte, Washington State University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) certified business advisor and center director for Clark and Skamania Counties, helped plan and develop the website, which she refers to as a “one-stop business resource for people to get their answers now.”

“People can go to the website anytime – 24/7 – get their answer, do some exploring, get all the logistical information they need, and start the thinking process,” she said.


How it started

According to Harte, the idea for an online, central business resource started in the mid 2000s when agencies like SCORE, SBDC and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce realized they were getting flooded with phone calls from the public with similar questions.

screenshot“The common thread was that the public would ask more than one organization the same question to get clarification,” Harte explained, adding that as each agency offered their own perspective, people would get confused.

“We needed a way to give answers that were informative, accurate and consistent,” she added. “Because for people, it’s like a path. They start down this journey and there are all kinds of forks in the road and people telling them different things.”

Today, after having gone through a journey all its own, Vancouver’s business resource website has new life.

Bonnie Moore, director of business services for both the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, credited city of Vancouver business development manager Alisa Pyszka for much of the website’s renewed momentum.

“She [Pyszka] really stepped up to the plate to take leadership of this project to see it through to funding and execution,” said Moore.

Like Harte, Pyszka said she, too, recognizes that there’s a state of confusion amongst the public when it comes to finding and gathering the right information.

“There’s so much information out there, but intuitively, you have no idea where to find it,” she said. “I think that’s what’s so hard for the small business owner – if you don’t know these organizations exist, how do you find this information? So what we wanted to do is simply put all of it in one place.”


What you’ll find

First and foremost, visitors will find information on the steps to take depending on where they are at in the business-building process. The site also contains stories from local business owners sharing what they’ve learned.

The development of the website is sponsored by Columbia Credit Union, and hosted and maintained by the City of Vancouver.  Additionally, the Vancouver Business Journal is hosting a comprehensive events calendar that pertains to all business trainings and pertinent meetings.

“A consolidated calendar will help us avoid duplication; it will help us identify gaps,” said Harte. “We’re thinking it’s going to be really great.”

The website landing page features a ‘Why SW Washington’ section, offering visitors “a few of the many reasons Vancouver is a great place to live and grow your business.” The page also contains a ‘Good Reading’ section with Fort Vancouver Regional Library resources as well as a short welcoming video starring Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.

“The tone of the website is really trying to make people feel good about this,” explained Pyszka. “The opening video from the mayor is about thanking them for their contribution to the community and keeping them inspired.”

In addition to its positive tone, Pyszka said the website features information in “bite-size chunks” so that users don’t have to dig for answers.

“We really tried to craft this in the brain of the small user,” she said. “Give them direct answers so they don’t have to call ten people.”


Strategically communicating

Harte said she anticipates using as a way to strategically communicate to her clients, utilizing the site to field questions that are less complicated while freeing her up to handle more complex issues.

“Typically, my clients are going to be in business and they’re going to need to do a little cherry picking,” said Harte. “So what I might say is, ‘Go to the business resource website and get into the ‘expanding your business’ section. Take a look at some of the questions there because that’s where you’re going to get some short answers.’

“It’s going to be a real good tool for me and some of the other local advisors to help them get information in the hands of the people that need it,” she added.

In terms of the communication between the city of Vancouver and the various agencies that helped to develop the website, Pyszka said everyone was very collaborative.

“It just took a lot because it was pro bono,” she said. “We didn’t have a consultant pulling it all together. But everyone came together and contributed quite a bit of content.”

“With all of these partnership efforts there needs to be a true project leader and everyone’s roles need to be clarified around that,” added Moore. “Janet [Harte], the CREDC and Alisa [Pyszka] really took that on.”


An evolving resource

Before the agencies that worked to develop can celebrate victory, Moore said two very important pieces remain: future maintenance of site’s content and marketing.

“There are a couple of ideas that we have discussed, but really those are two follow-up areas that need a strong lead agency to take ownership of,” said Moore.

Leading up to the site’s official launch, Pyszka and Harte said they will be welcoming suggestions as well as new submissions for the ‘inspirational’ business stories section.

“This is an evolving resource that is intended to be owned by the community,” said Harte. “It will be constantly changing and updated quarterly to insure that it provides relevant, timely and accurate information.”