New Portland Business Alliance CEO emphasizes small business, diversity, listening
By Matthew Kish
– Staff Reporter, Portland Business Journal
Call him Andrew, Andy or Drew. The new head of the city’s powerful chamber of commerce is seemingly free of self-importance.
“Choose your user experience,” Andrew Hoan said, when asked how he likes to be addressed, before admitting he prefers “Andrew” in professional settings.
Portland Business Alliance on Aug. 1, succeeding Sandra McDonough, who served in the role for 14 years. Belying his education in urban planning (a master’s degree from New York University) and Midwestern roots (Wisconsin), Hoan thinks holistically and is curious, quick with a laugh, self-deprecating and optimistic.
He spoke with the Business Journal this week and emphasized he wants the chamber to be inclusive and advocate more for small business while continuing to focus on the homeless crisis, transportation and city planning.
Hoan moved to New York City in 2003 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with an economics degree. He lived “in the thick of it all” in Brooklyn, across the street from the colossal real estate project known as Pacific Park, putting him at ground zero of the borough’s renaissance and “profound growth,” experience that will serve him well as Portland deals with many of the same accompanying problems.
“There were whole cities created inside the city,” Hoan said. “I look back on it now and it’s just jaw dropping.”
Hoan picked up his graduate degree from NYU while working for the borough president, then jumped to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in 2012 where he served as chief of staff for four years and CEO for 18 months. His role at the chamber put him on the front lines as Brooklyn wrestled with rising housing costs, increased traffic congestion and inclusionary zoning.
“Growth is a challenge,” he said. “There are going to be hard conversations and nobody should be afraid to have them. We have to figure out how to make it work for everyone.”
A small business listening tour
Part of making it “work for everyone” in Portland is opening the doors wider for small businesses and women- and minority-owned companies.
The Business Alliance is known for representing some of the city’s largest and most influential companies. Its board includes heads of utilities, banks, law firms, multinational companies and commercial real estate brokerages.
Hoan is spending an hour with each of the organization’s 66 board members, but he also wants to hear from the many small businesses that belong to the Business Alliance, which has more than 1,900 members.
The organization will start a small business listening tour in September. The tour will visit various parts of the city so busy entrepreneurs don’t have to trek to the Business Alliance’s downtown office.
“Getting a sense of what mom-and-pop businesses on the street feel can advise some smart policy,” Hoan said.
Hoan’s also making the Business Alliance’s conference room available to all of the organization’s members and increasing the goods and services it purchases from minority- and women-owned businesses.
“We want to put our resources where our mouth is,” he said.
Hoan backed up the small business talk when he ran the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which launched a loan fund for minority- and women-owned businesses called Brooklyn Alliance Capital. It was started with a $125,000 grant from the U.S. Treasury and eventually became a Community Development Financial Institution, which made it a vehicle for financing from major banks.
“The intent was to provide financing to those that were un-bankable,” he said. “An analysis of the organization found our impact to be most potent in the work we were doing to package loans for small businesses. So we said, ‘Let’s keep diving into that.’”
It’s possible the Portland Business Alliance could start a similar loan fund, but Hoan first wants to figure out the best way for the organization to engage.
“There will be different tools we can bring to bear here,” he said. “We can definitely become creative in how we use the Business Alliance.”
Homelessness: ‘first, second and third priority’
Since starting work on June 18 (Hoan became CEO on Aug. 1 when McDonough officially stepped down), Hoan has been asking members about their priorities. Homelessness continues to top the list.
“Almost ubiquitously, what’s happening in the streets of the city … is without question their first, second and third priority,” he said. “I share the sentiments. When we talk about this as a crisis, it’s correct. It’s a tragedy. I don’t know one business that doesn’t want to step up to the plate and take action.”
Hoan noted the Business Alliance supported an increase in a Portland business tax this year that steered proceeds to the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
“If the dollars are allocated to the right issues we’re willing to step up to the table,” Hoan said.
Hoan said transportation and land-use problems have also come up repeatedly in his meetings with business leaders. Hoan will formally start a strategic planning process in September. He said he wants “creative ideas on the table,” such as water taxis, noting the popularity of them in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“Where I come from, taking the ferry was a part of the way you got around,” he said.
Hoan started work amidst a reshuffling of the state’s business trade groups. Last year, Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Association merged and formed Oregon Business & Industry. A new trade group, Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, announced its launch last month and Business for a Better Portland, which was founded as a sort of alternative chamber of commerce, has hit its stride.
Hoan said McDonough left the Portland Business Alliance on “extraordinarily sound footing across every definition” and the state’s shifting landscape of business groups represents the “flourishing” of the state’s economy.
Hoan attended JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s recent Portland luncheon and echoed Dimon’s call for business groups to work together on big civic problems and not get tangled up in self-serving issues.
“No matter where you come from or what industry you’re in, you’re Portland first,” Hoan said.
Who: Andrew Hoan
Organization: Portland Business Alliance, the city’s chamber of commerce
Personal: Hoan’s wife, Karina Hoan, is a gynecologist at the Portland Clinic. They have a 1-year-old son, Theo.
Residence: The Hoans rent a home in the Pearl District and are looking for permanent housing.
Hobbies: The outdoors. The Hoans met at a Brooklyn, N.Y., rock-climbing gym. They also enjoy riding bikes around the city.