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Don Dominguez with coffee at a "Cup of Excellence" competition in Honduras.
Don Dominguez, president and CEO of K&F Select Fine Coffees, is learning something new: How to schedule a vacation.

Dominguez, a participant in this year's Emerging 200 class in Portland, opened his coffee-roasting company with his father in 1983 and now has 28 employees. More than two decades in business have given him plenty of hands-on leadership experience, but in the E200 classroom, he's picking up new skills, such as guidance on how to gracefully divest unprofitable product lines. And how to carve out vacation time for

himself. While the business lessons have been eye-opening, Dominguez says he's especially grateful for the peer support and morale he shares with his classmates.

"It's hard to be optimistic in these times," he says.

Declines in the manufacturing and constructing industries pushed Oregon to a 12% unemployment rate for April - the second highest rate in the nation, behind Michigan. Harry DeWolf, district director for the SBA in Portland, says his office applied to participate in E200 to boost the small businesses his city is relying on to create jobs.

"I thought it would be an excellent way to demonstrate our commitment to the small business community and highlight the exceptional small business support network we have in this area," DeWolf says.

Interest was high for Portland's first E200 program, which began last month. DeWolf estimates that his office received 100 applications for 16 spots. Choosing among them was hard: "You don't want to say `no' when you see so many companies that you know would benefit from this," he says.

Those chosen to participate include a pizza parlor, a sports talent agency, a furniture manufacturer and a home-based company called "Tree in a Box" that sells seedlings to commemorate special occasions.

Dominguez says E200 has allowed him to discuss problems and solutions with other small business owners -- which he believes will help strengthen Portland's business community as a whole.

"Sometimes you just want some simple answers to you questions, like 'what should my labor costs be' or 'what should I look for in adding a new product?'" Dominguez says.

NEXT: Detroit

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