Keeping on the Innovative Edge
By Marshall Doak
Director of the Southern Oregon University Small Business Development Center

The coach is in
Our region’s real estate market continues to show some resiliency, even though some national indicators have flattened-out recently. Housing starts and existing home sales are considered leading indicators in the economy, and are watched closely by economists for insight into where the economy might be headed. Individual circumstances can vary in a strong economy just as in a weak economy, but the aggregate data suggest we have a relatively stable set of economic conditions. This is great news, but currently the upside is being constrained by a number of mixed signals from the economic and political arenas. How this all plays out will determine how successful we are in keeping this relatively stable economy moving forward. One significant factor is the increasing reactivity of the economy to current news, both to the upside and to the downside. With the current economy in one of the two longest expansions in post WWII history, a sense of …. ‘is this the end of it?’ has taken hold in some circles. What this portends, if anything, will play out over the next 16 months during the next election cycle.
On a statewide level, construction of single- and multi-family housing is up. Regionally, the same is true, except the demand for housing is greater than the supply coming on board. Locally, several multi-family housing projects have been completed or announced for building over the next couple years. The companies that manufacture materials used in housing and the companies providing the architectural and construction services are busy, managing the limitations that a constrained labor pool has imposed upon the market.
Offsetting this picture are some counter-indicators signaling the reverse: weaker stock market and consumer confidence data to name two.
Small and medium businesses, the backbone of the Oregon economy employing 75% of all employees, work with this murky picture of economic health on a daily basis. The accumulation of the many individual decisions that these companies make will have a profound effect upon Oregon’s economy in the future. How and when investments are made - where the invested money is spent for the real estate, equipment, and personnel needed for expansions for example, will determine real outcomes for us all. The accumulated effect upon the economy of additional business taxes and fees will take a while to be understood.
About the Author:
Marshall Doak is an entrepreneur, manager, risk-taker and lifelong small business supporter who advises businesses in the Southern Oregon region as Director of the Southern Oregon University Small Business Development Center. He brings extensive production management, organizational development and non-profit management experience to help develop the entrepreneurial community within the region.  He and his wife Virginia live in Medford.
Where investments are made on a geographic basis is vitally important to local economies, and where capital is invested inside an organization likewise is important. Investment into Research and Development is a vital leading indicator of an expanding economy, and can provide structural competitive advantages to the investing company over their competition over time. Investments into human capital will become one of the best areas to receive a return from – eliminating or reducing trained employee turnover is a very cost-effective strategy to maintain or gain market share and remain healthy as a business. Adoption of new technologies and combinations of electronic and mechanical technologies to increase the efficiency of labor will be critical to continued success. Integrating human and robotic processes that will increase productivity in the workplace while providing increased satisfaction in the types of jobs the human components perform is also in a current uptrend.

When we reach the realization that the workers entering the workforce today have never had the experience of answering a telephone connected to the wall by a physical wire, we have a model in our mind that very little of what we now consider a normal workplace has been around for more than a few years. Before this, many of today’s machines, electronic tools, and operational capabilities simply did not exist. This trend in the increasing speed and complexity of change will only accelerate. Innovation drives these changes, and the surviving and strengthening companies are the ones to develop these innovations and adapt the uses for their bottom-line benefit.

Business Oregon’s Strategic Plan, ‘Prosperity For All Oregonians’ outlines a strategy for advancing Oregon’s economy for the 2018 – 2022 period. It is worth becoming familiar with the concepts and plans contained within. It is even better to understand the forces at work in today’s economy that will not substantially change over the next five-year planning cycle, regardless of macroeconomic performance, and work to align your business with some of the trends in innovation and creativity that are taking place. Keep your business on the cutting edge of excellence and progress to remain viable in this changing dynamic economy.

The Business Oregon Strategic Plan // 2018 – 2022 can be found here.
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