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Power Breakfast unveils a desire for more marketing

Business community shares suggestions to strengthen commerce
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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While most local business owners who responded to a March 11 “walking survey” said business was OK, close to 20 percent said they are struggling. The feedback from more than 400 local businesses is providing a panoramic look into the state of commerce in the Auburn area. Armed with facts, figures, charts and graphs, city and county officials present the “Listening to Business” findings at Friday’s quarterly Power Breakfast at Auburn’s Holiday Inn. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce spent the two weeks since compiling the data from the three questions posed in the March 11 face-to-face survey. And some widely shared views emerged. Many responders have a positive outlook on the local business climate. According to the chamber summary evaluation, 82 percent described their business as OK or better. Many share a strong sense of community and many would like to put more effort into marketing. “They’re not looking for the county, city or chamber to do that for them,” chamber CEO Bruce Cosgrove said Wednesday. “It was an acknowledgement that they need to do more marketing. Some used the word networking. Some used the phrase, ‘We need more referrals.’ Referrals come from interaction, good customer service, social networking, getting out into the community and meeting other business people and building relationships.” Still, nearly 20 percent of businesses are struggling, 1 percent responding that their situation is “very bad” and/or that they would be closing their doors in the near future. Those in the “very bad” category are located in the Kemper and Atwood roads area, Auburn Town Center, Nevada Street and in the East Lincoln/Bowman area, the summary says. The “struggling” businesses included 23 in the Downtown area, 16 along the Grass Valley Highway corridor and 37 others in surrounding areas. The question of how to improve business drew variety of responses. Among the suggestions were adding more large retailers, more and better signage and improving traffic and parking, safety and security, local regulations and fees and wages. “I’m encouraged by that,” Cosgrove said. “There isn’t any simple, one factor that we would say, ‘let’s go out and do this and our economic world would change.’” By listening to business, it’s clear that it is really a combination of things, he added. “I found it very interesting the number of businesses that thought the community needs more events,” Cosgrove said. “And that the value isn’t just in the activity of the event itself, but in bringing people to the center, to your street — causing people to have a reason to discover (your area) and socialize in front of your door in your area.” In describing what they liked best about doing business in Auburn, more than half of the business owners said they love the “small-town” atmosphere. Quality of life and clientele also ranked high. The next step in the process is to study the common threads that have emerged. ”Where we can find that common thread, we can initially start there and focus energy and resources where we can do the most good and have the most impact and be the most helpful to business,” Cosgrove said. The city of Auburn and Placer County have already launched some initiatives. The city is working on a one-stop source document to compile economic development and business support programs available in the community. The county’s Office of Economic Development is working with the city of Auburn and the chamber on strategies to market the Auburn Airport Business Park. The chamber is utilizing focus groups and expanding use of electronic media for outreach, assistance and dialogue with business, according to the chamber summary. “The raw data are there for us to look at and begin to address those suggestions and ideas that have real merit and can help the most businesses in the community,” Cosgrove said. “In an ideal world you can go out and solve everybody’s problems. It’s unrealistic to think we could possibly do that. I think collectively we can address those areas where we share common concerns.” At Downtown’s Dancing Dog Productions, owner Lora LaPorte said she welcomed being able to participate in the business walk. “I thought it was fairly helpful,” she said. “Anytime businesses can have a platform to give input, it’s a positive thing. I thought the questions were pretty relevant.” Learning the results was also important. “I want to know what other businesses have to say,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat, undergoing the same struggles and pressures. If we can stick together as a business community, it’s one of the keys.” Sharon Watson-Bunch, owner of The Quiet Path with her husband Michael Bunch, was disappointed not to have received a visit. The walk began at 9 a.m. that Thursday, and their Downtown store doesn’t open until 11 a.m. “October wasn’t very good and February was a rough month, but as soon as the weather got better, it has picked up a lot already,” Watson-Bunch said. “We really like our business. We really want to stay in Auburn. We feel it is a positive community with positive people.” Today’s 7 a.m. Power Breakfast presentation includes city, county and chamber speakers. City Manager Bob Richardson is scheduled to discuss information relative to what was learned inside the city limits. Dave Snyder, director of the Placer County Office of Economic Development, will present what was learned from businesses in the unincorporated areas of Auburn. Chamber President Bill Radakovitz and Cosgrove will also provide an overview. Businesses that may not have responded to this business walk will get another chance to participate, likely within the next six months to a year, Cosgrove said. “We will do this again,” he said. “It was a very positive, very helpful and very appreciated by the businesses we visited. It is also very valuable to the city, county and chamber.” Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.