New BizTown gives kids grown-up commerce experiences

See how Junior Achievement’s new SE Portland $5 Million business immersion educational center helps youngsters get a hands-on feel for working in the grown-up world.

Fifth-graders Jimmy Linderman and Jeremy Banka were two of the first youngsters to experience “BizTown”, as Intel executives.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What started as an idea six years ago‚ creating a mini-city with 19 public and private businesses‚ has become a reality, as Portland Junior Achievement unveiled “BizTown”.

Situated in Southeast Portland, BizTown is like an indoor commerce-oriented theme park. Around a town square are storefronts  and workspaces for banks, restaurants, retail shops, manufacturers, and services‚ most of which are sponsored and branded by Pacific Northwest businesses.

We talked briefly with two “junior executives” working at the BizTown Intel offices. Jimmy Linderman and Jeremy Banka, fifth-graders from our area dressed in white lab coats, were among the first to experience BizTown.

“I had a great time building the robot. It was really awesome,” said Linderman. “I had the sense of what it is like to work. I know more about what it’s like in an adult’s daily life from being here.”

Banka added, “My favorite part was building and programming the robot. It was fun to experiment putting things together.”

John Hancock, President of Junior Achievement; Mark Payton, secretary of the JA Board, and Director of Software Acquisitions Integration for IBM; Brian Rice, Immediate Past Chairman of the JA Board, and President of KeyBank of Oregon; and Steve Gray, Treasurer of the JA Board, and Vice President of KeyBank, here cut the ribbon signaling the official opening of “BizTown“.

More than a “play-date”
At the opening ceremonies, we spoke with John Hancock, the president of Portland Junior Achievement (JA). “Teachers of students who participate in our BizTown program give their kids 18 hours of instructional time before they come here. When they arrive for their day at BizTown, the youngsters roll up their sleeves, and try their hand at running a business.”

Hancock told us that JA helps young people see what it’s like being an adult. “While they’re not faced with the pressures of adulthood, they get to see what it’s like in business. It doesn’t get any better than this, in experimental learning.”

After having 18 hours of classroom instruction, local students get to try their hand at running a business, here in “BizTown“.

Bridging enterprise and education
“We believe the two most important institutions in our nation and our city are free enterprise, and the system by which we educate our young people,” Hancock said. “We’re proud to get resources from the private sector, and to deliver our programs to schools.”

The local JA office, recently relocated from S.E. Belmont to 7830 SE Foster Road, serves 35,000 kids in Oregon and Washington. For more information, see

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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