Tuesday, April 24, 2012

capturing information + insights with surveys

If you think conducting a survey means canvassing your neighborhood with a clipboard and tallying results, you’ve got it wrong.

Surveys are an effective, affordable and underutilized business tool that small business owners and community organizations can use to obtain information and evaluate what’s most important to their customers and neighbors.

All well-planned projects require the input of outsiders to make sure everyone is not just adequately served but also content, and technology makes it easier than ever to tap the audience you most want to reach.

In fact, Neighborhood Notes conducted our own survey at the beginning of the year, shedding invaluable light on who you are and what’s important to you, thus allowing us to tailor the stories we write for you.

This article is not about the particulars of survey design but is rather intended to stimulate you to think about what kinds of information and insights you can creatively capture about your audience, customers and neighbors to help your business or neighborhood project move forward in the right direction.

Why Should You Conduct A Survey?

You could simply capture demographic information and feedback from your customers, but if you’re considering making a change, big or small, in your business, you’d be wise to get the input of your biggest supporters: your customers.

In spring 2008, Jo Carter, the proprietress of the clothing boutique Physical Element, says, “I had made the decision to do away with the last remnants of active sportswear and commit to 100 percent international and local fashion. A big relaunch was underway.”

While Carter made this decision on her own, she was still nervous about how it would be received. A simple survey, conducted via the email marketing software Constant Contact, “really confirmed that the direction we were taking was spot on,” Carter says. “It told us how much our service was appreciated..."

Get more creative tips on how to craft your next survey on Neighborhood Notes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

do people have the wrong perception of your neighborhood?

How do people react when you reveal which Portland neighborhood you live in?

Cully neighbor Justin Houk has been told that he lives in the "hillbilly part of Portland by people that live one street over in Beaumont," while University Park neighbor Christa Stephanie Denise relates that someone "straight up has said to my face where I live sucks." And who hasn't heard about the childless Pearl, gang-infested NE Portland, or crime-ridden Felony Flats?

Or worse yet, what if the mention of your neighborhood or business district garners no reaction at all, or people ask, “where’s that?”

Whether you live in a neighborhood known by its stereotype or not, many Portland neighbors and business owners are seeking to create an identity for their community or to change a negative perception of their neighborhood—to outsiders and insiders.

Although the area considered Felony Flats in Portland may not have defined boundaries, the Lents neighborhood has often been considered smack dab in the middle of this “undesirable” area.

“There are a lot of really pervasive false perceptions about Lents that are perpetuated citywide, mostly by people who've never been to the area,” Lents neighbor and community leader Cora Potter says, “and their reason for not coming is usually one of the incorrect assumptions or perceptions that they heard from another person or persons—so it's just a vicious cycle.”

Lents Neighborhood Association board member Jess Laventall echos Potter’s sentiments. “Often the only brands that have been applied to Lents have been labels from people who do not live here, or have only driven past Lents, or have only read about certain events in the news. It's unfortunate some people unfairly label Lents in the media where it often has high visibility, thus affecting even more underinformed perceptions.”

Thinking about your neighborhood or business district as a brand can give community members and business leaders the opportunity to assess the realities of their areas before determining which positive aspects to highlight for the city to see.

So, where do you begin the process?

Assessing Reality: The Facts

The first step is to “assess the reality,” says communications consultant Brooke Preston of The Word Brewery. “What is the neighborhood’s reality, from insiders’ perspectives? Be honest—every neighborhood has assets and drawbacks.”

Business owners may have slightly different strategies and goals than neighbors for branding their sector, but on the whole, graphic designer Jeff Fisher of LogoMotives believes both “feel a need to brand a neighborhood to create a sense of community, give the area a recognized identity within the city, and convey and instill pride in that neighborhood.” Business districts may add the “desired results of bringing business traffic to the district and producing an economic impact,” Fisher says.

In an ideal world, the perspectives of both neighbors and business owners would align to establish a vibrant brand and community that everyone desires to stand behind. Recognize the positive aspects of your community, whether that’s history or nascent culture, to create a new brand that speaks to the spirit of neighbors and business owners alike.

Find out more about assessing the realities of your neighborhood or business district on Neighborhood Notes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

seeking justice : a q/a with gaspard augé

The second time Justice toured the States in March 2008, they brought along some filmmaker friends to document what happens "when a bunch of frogs gets dropped in dreamy America."

Dubbed A Cross The Universe after their debut , the Parisian duo of Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé got themselves into more than enough hijinks. And amongst the blood, boobs, guns, arrests, and eardrum-singeing beats, the highlight of that tour may have come in Vegas, culminating in the impromptu, whiskey-swigging wedding between Gaspard and a groupie whom he had met just three hours prior (apparently an homage to Axl Rose). Watch 90 seconds of the NSFW trailer below:

According to The Guardian, Gaspard "misplaced his new bride hours after their nuptials. ('She tried to contact me,' he says with a shrug, 'but obviously I didn't do the paperwork when I got back to France, so I'm legally just married in Nevada.')"

Justice was quick to admit that these surely aren't their proudest moments, and things definitely got out of hand at times, but the movie is a document nonetheless.

Not out to repeat themselves on film or record, Justice's 2011 album Audio, Video, Disco distanced the pair from their disco-house dance roots and ventured into the territory of prog rock. The record has faced it's fair share of criticism, often regarding the sparseness and simplicity of the album—whether the songs aren't dancey enough, or there's too little cohesion or too many distracting bursts of '70s arena rock riffs—but as witnessed by their tour documentary and subsequent interviews, Justice has a casual, blasé attitude. What happens, happens and it doesn't seem like they harbor much remorse or apologies for past or present transgressions.

Besides, who cares about the critics anyways? They sold out their Portland show months in advance. Now at the tail end of their North American leg (the first US tour in two years), Justice hits up the Roseland as part of the Soul'd Out Music Festival on Tuesday, April 24th... the same night Coldplay is in town—think fans will have a hard time choosing?

OMN had the chance to catch up with Gaspard Augé via chat in the days leading up to their arrival in Portland.

Did you try to distance yourself from your last album (and maybe even electro-house music) with Audio, Video, Disco?

It's was not a conscious move. Obviously there are differences but we see more common points. To us it's driven by the same influences and obsessions—to make epic, romantic, melancholic pop music. The form changed a bit, but it's a natural evolution between the two records.

Right. So how is it stylistically different in your eyes (or ears)?

We wanted to have a roomy sound, with more air into music, and to make something violent without being aggressive, more laid-back.

Watch "Civilization," the first single from Audio, Video, Disco:

I've read that you wanted this album to be simpler. How did you try to achieve that?

We don't think it's a simpler album music-wise, but we liked the idea that the sound has to be raw, with not much effects, a bit like a good sounding demo, at least in appearance. It has to sound effortless though we put a lot of effort.

Read the rest on OMN.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

locally owned alternatives to big box grocers

Food is a necessity for all living creatures. But unlike our wild counterparts, we humans have developed complex appetites that are often based on exorbitant wants rather than pure need.

We've easily created the tools necessary to satisfy our cravings. But often our modern means are not always the most economically sensible or environmentally friendly. So, in honor of Earth Day 2012 on April 22, Neighborhood Notes would like to direct your attention to some suppliers of groceries that put local food first while focusing on sustainability and supporting the local economy.

The following six establishments have become more than just grocers but community resources, and here's what makes each unique.

People's Food Co-op

SE Portland's community-owned People's Food Co-op provides more than locally sourced, healthy foods and a commitment to sustainability and its community. "Because People's is owned by the community and not by an individual," People's website states, "we can genuinely focus first on our customers and the services that we provide for them, not on the profit we make from them." With this mission in mind, People's is a hub for cooperation and collaboration, as evidenced by its full calendar of events. Held on-site in its Community Room, People's plays host to educational and hands-on activities for all ages, from cooking classes and gardening courses to movie screenings and author readings to yoga and tai chi. And outside the store, you can find People's courtyard filled with local vendors every Wednesday for the weekly farmers' market.

People's Food Co-op, 3029 SE 21st Ave., 503.674.2642

Alberta Co-op Grocery

"Good. Local. Food." That's the simple motto of the Alberta Cooperative Grocery, which strives to stock its shelves with local and sustainable goods. From its buyer's club roots, the Alberta Co-op has grown into "a community resource and gathering place" that provides "fresh, high-quality, affordable food" to residents of North and NE Portland. "We emphasize products from local, organic and socially responsible sources, and work to build connections between our customers and their farmers," states its mission. The Alberta Co-op seeks to foster this connection through an annual farm tour (in partnership with People's). This year, the all-day tour will head south to Eugene on June 9 to answer the question: "What does the organic food growing and distribution system look like?" The cost, including travel and meals, is $29 per adult or $15 for youths and low-income community members. Stop by either co-op for more details or to sign up.

Alberta Co-op Grocery, 1500 NE Alberta St., 503.287.4333

Read the rest on Neighborhood Notes.

becoming battleme : the transformation of matt drenik

Matt Drenik came to Portland in the summer of 2010 for two reasons: a girl and an eye institute.

In 2009, Drenik was diagnosed with uvetis—an autoimmune disease that affects the eyes. It's the fourth leading cause of blindness and there is no known cause or cure.

"I think when something as sensitive as the eyes gets compromised, you start to really see the world differently," Drenik says. "A lot of the things that used to bother me don't really hit me the same way. I think every person has a different reaction to a life-changing experience. With me, I just felt that I wanted to say so much more than I had. And that time was now. I didn't have to wait anymore. And I was done thinking too hard about what other people thought... or even what was right. I just did."

This was the birth of Battleme, developed in the Portland basement of the aforementioned girl while she was at work.

When Drenik finally left Austin for good and moved to Portland in June 2011, his former band, Lions, was put on permanent hiatus. But before that, "In the summer of 2009, Lions was on a national tour and hooked up with our friends Red Fang to play Portland and Seattle together," Drenik recalls. "John [Sherman, Red Fang's drummer] took us out on our night off and we ended up landing at the Slow Bar. Our friend Maureen worked there. I got the intro to a girl sitting at the bar. She later became my wife. For real."

This nascent love and the potential loss of his sight were driving influences as Drenik recorded the sounds—every weird, genre-twisting experiment—that poured from his mind last summer. Surfacing with a handful of tracks, 11 songs would ultimately become Battleme's self-titled debut, which is due out on Tuesday, April 24th via Thomas Turner's (Ghostland Observatory) label, Trashy Moped Recordings.

"With Battleme, it's just me," Drenik says. "I play all the instruments. So, I'm my own filter. And since my tastes bounce from one thing to the next, my filter tends to be a bit ADD. This can be super-liberating and terribly frustrating, depending on who you talk to. I always thought it was pure."

The transfigurative nature of the album swings from danceable rockers to sparse and intimate songs. Some tracks—including the first single "Touch," which you can download here—have already drawn comparisons to LCD Soundsystem and The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne. But the palate is varied from the, intentional or not, Ghostland-esque synth lines to jangling tambourines to twangy slide guitar. Drenik thinks of it with same mindset you'd use when creating a mixtape, that each song should simply and spontaneously fit together, "always flow[ing] from one mood to the next."

"I'm not exactly sure where the sounds come from," he says. "Maybe it's the mood I'm in when I'm writing it. I think I was just tired of trying to figure out what I was supposed to sound like."

With his disease currently in remission, Drenik says he's "been stable since 2011" but "it's still always in the back of your [my] mind." As he preps to celebrate the release of Battleme at the Doug Fir on Friday, April 27th with My Goodness and Secret Music, Drenik is ready to share his newest and purest body of work with audiences. (The Portland show is preceded by a Seattle gig on the 26th at High Dive and followed by a set at the Oregon Garden Brew Fest in Silverton on the 28th.)

After you were diagnosed with uvetis in 2009, you had to change your lifestyle.

I had to clean up. I had to change my diet. I had to give up a lot of the touring lifestyle of sleeping in Walmart parking lots and eating shitty fast food. I had to give up too much booze and everything else that wears people down.

How did your diagnosis influence your songwriting?

Everything was just so immediate at that point. I wanted to write all these songs. And record different parts. I wanted to make a piece of art. Lots of pieces. And I think that all came across in the early demos. It wasn't a conscious choice to record a bunch of folk songs. I was living in a small place in Austin and couldn't be very loud.

Read the rest on OMN.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

how to figure the value of your time + cost-benefit of an employee

A small business owner recently asked Neighborhood Notes, “What do I need to do to hire my first employee?”

We began to answer that question by talking to several small business owners who have already hired their first, and in some cases second, third and more, employee. Simply enough, we asked: “How do you know when it’s time to hire your first employee?”

The responses were insightful, full of realizations and real-world experience, but when we asked business owners: “How do you value your time?” Everyone was inevitably stumped. Most said something along the lines of: “Well, it’s difficult to put a definitive value on my time.”

While business owners were able to realize the areas where their time was most effectively and most profitably spent, they did not necessarily know how to assign a dollar value to that time.

That’s where Bill Horton, a small business coach at BizFix and educator for Mercy Corps NW, comes in, counseling that it’s absolutely necessary for business owners to put a value on their time.

Horton outlines the following list of questions:

  • Time to put a number to an hour of your time. Would you value your time between $50-100 per hour?

  • What else could you focus on if you hired someone for $15-20 per hour to do some of your tasks?

  • What tasks would you like to take off your plate?
What’s the Value of Your Time?

"If you can’t value your time, how are you able to price your product?” Horton asks. “If you're not sure how much your time is worth, how are you able to tell me that bag costs this much?"

And to take that one step further, Horton insists, "For you to be able to cover your living expenses and your business expenses, you have to know how many hours you have to work a month, and... how much are you getting paid for that hour."

Find out how to put a dollar amount on your time and assess the cost-benefits of hiring your first employee on Neighborhood Notes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

‘live from the banana stand’ : a q/a with ‘stand founders on documenting portland’s live sound

As a wise man once said, "There's always money in the banana stand."

And a few years after that banana stand burned down, some Midwest transplants decided to build their own banana stand in Portland. Since 2007, it's evolved into a record label (Banana Stand Media) and a secret venue (The Banana Stand) located in SE Portland where a team of music aficionados strive to document Portland's music scene through live recordings.

Their efforts can be accessed on Banana Stand Media, which serves as a portal to their work and mission as well as an outlet for the crew to share photos, interviews (often conducted with the bands that perform at the 'Stand), and comments on new musical discoveries, local and otherwise. Through documenting their own growth and processes, it's also a bit of a resource for musicians and home recording geeks.

The 'Stand also has plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign (soon!), which "will fund production of a 1,000-unit run of live compilation CDs. The CDs will feature 20 different live tracks from bands like Tango Alpha Tango, Blue Skies for Black Hearts, The Angry Orts, Death Songs, Youth, Forest Park, Sons of Huns, The We Shared Milk, The Woolen Men—you know who we've worked with, you know who is on it."

Hoping to defray expenses, the 'Stand says about $1,300 should We have expenses defray their costs, and "rewards will be compilation related, but will also include t-shirts and other CDs we've produced... and whatever else we can lay hands on."

Until then, the 'Stand's next release (out on April 10th) comes from The Angry Orts. Recorded on September 24th, 2011, The Orts' Sara Hernandez told OMN that she remembers "a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings" from that night when the band played set composed of garage rocking cuts from their first two albums as well as laid down one new track.

Listen and download "Mustache Ride" from The Ort's Live from The Banana Stand set:

"We recently signed on two new band members, which is really exciting," Hernandez said, so the official lineup of the band now includes Aaron Ettlin (guitar), Matthew Hernandez (drums), Sara Hernandez (vocals), Emily Seabroke (bass), Molly Wiltshire (backup vocals/auxiliary instruments/booty shaker... also Sara's sister). "I think it's going to take the band in a slightly different direction, but we'll still keep that upbeat, pop-y vibe." But more on this at the tail end of this article...

Advocates and documentarians of local music, two of the 'Stand's founders, Louie Herr and Aaron Colter, took the time to answer a slew of questions from OMN about what goes on at the 'Stand. (Note: Answers without attribution come from both guys.)

Let's start with a few numbers from the 'Stand stat sheet:

Number of shows that have been played at the 'Stand: 55 shows, 90+ live performances recorded.
Number of people involved in putting on a 'Stand show: As many as a dozen for any one show.
Number of people who fit in the 'Stand for a live show: 50-60, somewhat comfortably.
Number of recordings the 'Stand has released: 35 EP- and LP-length live albums and a smattering of other live recordings.
Number of songs/albums sold/downloaded to date: Our online players are accessed far more often than tracks are downloaded. To date, we've served 10,000+ plays and 500+ downloads.
Frequency of releases: Every two weeks.
Average time between recording and release: Several months, but we're working on it.

Who started to the 'Stand and when? And who actually lives at the secret locale?

Banana Stand was started by Indiana transplants Louie Herr, Aaron Colter, Shawn Pike, Ross Faulkenberg, and Jott Robertson in late 2007. Our first event was a live-recorded NYE show...

Read the rest on OMN.

Monday, April 2, 2012

thinking local : job creation not relocation

Who is responsible for job creation? The president, local government, entrepreneurial business people?

As we expressed last month in the first installment in our Thinking Local series, you don’t have to look to ambiguous entities to create change in your community. You, and your neighbors, have the power to effect considerable change by just changing your habits. There is power in your dollar, but there is also power in your voice and vote.

So, what exactly is job creation? Any new job that pays a living wage in Portland is a good thing, right?

Well, yes. And no, because it’s not that simple. Where did that job come from? If it was homegrown, that’s great. But, sometimes job creation in Portland is a job loss in another part of the country. And does wooing a big business to relocate in your city really benefit the locals?

Job Relocation?

In 2002, the City of Portland encouraged the Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to relocate its North American headquarters and build a new manufacturing plant in town. Announcing it would bring 1,200 jobs to Portland (at a time when we had the nation’s highest unemployment), Vestas received encouragement in the form of public incentives—more than $10 million in public funds.

After pitting the Port of Portland’s Rivergate Industrial District against Washington’s Port of Longview, the manufacturing facility never came to fruition and the jobs eventually went to Colorado. Other planned expansions stalled, like the $250 million South Waterfront headquarters, for which the company was set to receive $31.5 million in direct incentives from the state and city in 2008. The $12.5 million from the city was the most Portland had ever offered for corporate recruitment, but the company said it would create 850 new white-collar jobs by 2011.

And it worked. Sort of. Vestas did come to town (and has ultimately stuck around) but not all the jobs followed. The Danish company currently employs approximately 400 in Portland, leaving Vestas some 800 jobs short of the goal it set in 2002 and again 2008. After ditching the expensive South Waterfront project, Vestas finally committed in 2010 to a $66 million renovation of the Meier & Frank Depot Building in the Pearl. City Hall offered Vestas another loan ($8.1 million this time with no payments due for 15 years), of which The Oregonian said, “Portland’s urban renewal agency sidestepped its own guidelines last week in approving an unprecedented interest-free loan to keep turbine-maker Vestas in the city.”

Now, in 2012, the latest news is that Vestas lost $220 million in 2011 and was forced to cut thousands jobs worldwide. Vestas will not disclose the total number of employees affected by location, but company spokesperson Andrew Longeteig says, “The jobs lost in Portland were limited to a few positions.”

When these incentives were given out, it was assumed the income taxes of new hires would repay state's incentives in five years or less. Obviously, the anticipated expansion never happened, and local local taxpayers have been burdened with the cost.

It’s difficult to determine the public cost per job created, but if we focus on the most recent, and smallest, $8.1 million loan, The Oregonian reported that it could cost taxpayers as much as $2.6 million to cover interest payments. And, the city is only compensated for that $2.6 million (over five-plus years) if Vestas actually grows and adds 800 jobs—in the meantime, taxpayers shoulder the liability.

Read more about local job creation on Neighborhood Notes.