Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

A recession survivor story

Business partners Scott Milam and Ken Imse are survivors.

Both self-described “paycheck guys” working in their respective fields for a quarter-century, Milam and Imse found themselves in late 2008 part of a swelling number of newly-unemployed Clark County residents.

For Imse, his employment status was a result of something much bigger than just bad luck. A longtime commercial banker, Imse has the unwelcome distinction of working for two failed regional financial institutions: Bank of Clark County, and later, Frontier Bank.

A nonprofit executive for Salvation Army in Portland, Milam also joined the ranks of the job-seeking masses around the same time as Imse. Both men searched fruitlessly for positions in their fields – a fact, considering their qualifications, perhaps indicative of one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.

After a year-and-a-half of looking for that elusive paycheck, Milam and Imse decided to try something new. Last month, they struck out on their own, forming Milam-Imse Consulting, a provider of operational and financial assistance to a range of firms from the nonprofit to the healthcare sector.

The creation of new ventures like Milam-Imse may be the only good story to come out of this grueling recession – one repeated up and down Main Street, Vancouver, as well as on avenues, boulevards and roads throughout the nation. “After months of looking for work, there are a lot of people here who are saying, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” Imse told me this week over coffee at Java House in downtown Vancouver.

In the two-plus years of recession, we’ve heard a lot about victims: as well we should, since the downturn cost many their jobs, homes and, in some cases, membership in the American middle and upper-classes.

But what of the survivors?

For Imse, at least, the incredible uncertainty of the past few years has bred not despair, but a new-found sense of opportunity. “After all these years of being a ‘paycheck guy,’ I’m enjoying the entrepreneurial challenge,” he said.

I say: if there are dozens, hundreds or even thousand stories of people like these two Clark County professionals taking charge of their own economic destiny, that’s cause for everyone to celebrate.