| Rural Entrepreneurship Boosted by Efforts of Statewide Collaborative
Supporting the efforts of rural entrepreneurs through building an entrepreneurial development system in target geographical areas, a statewide collaborative is making a significant impact in growing many rural businesses throughout the state.
|During Rural Oregon Day in the State Capitol in February, partners and participants in the CORE program gathered to deliver a proclamation supporting small business formation and growth in Oregon.
Connecting Oregon for Rural Entrepreneurship (CORE) seeks to encourage entrepreneurship in rural Oregon by assessing needs and resources for entrepreneurship, as well as expanding services to help entrepreneurs start and grow successful rural businesses.
"Developing rural entrepreneurship is part of ensuring a healthy and sustainable business community for Oregon," said Kathryn Weber, CORE's manager. "Oregon's economy is heavily weighted toward small businessses. There is a lot of entrepreneurial activity beyond the I-5 corridor."
Established in 2005, CORE is funded by a three-year $2 million W.K. Kellogg Foundation Rural Entreprepreneurship Development grant. The umbrella for CORE in Oregon is Rural Development Initiatives, Inc (RDI), a private nonprofit organization located in Eugene. RDI's mission is to be a catalyst for community vitality in rural areas, working with rural leaders and volunteers to expand the knowledge, skills and networks for building communities.
The CORE collaborative has more than 25 statewide parters, with five regional target service areas throughout rural Oregon: Lake County, Lincoln County, Warm Springs, Northeast Oregon and Southwest Oregon.
More than 30 stakeholders serve as advisors to the project, including regional, state and national organizations. "We start at the ground level to determine what rural entrepreneurs and small businesses need," said Weber.
Some 97.7 percent of Oregon's businesses employer fewer than 20, and some 85 percent employe five or fewer. More than 56 percent of the state's non-farm employees work in these businesses.
CORE has been successful at supporting rural entrepreneurs expand and share their expertise and knowledge about "best practices," as well as implement activities to strengthen access to capital. The collaborative also increased access to market trends and market opportunity information and elevated the visibility of rural entrepreneurs. CORE partners also leveraged techology to increase access to support entrepreneurial support services.
A proclamation delivered by CORE during Rural Oregon Day advocated for a change in Oregon's economic development policy, as well as a boost for small business development spending, especially in rural counties.
"Oregon financial commitments for small business initiatives amount to less than 1 percent of the state budget. The return on this investment far exceeds the amount of state resources invested," the proclamation reads.
"In order to strengethen and diversify its economy, Oregon must focus on cultivating and supporting entrepreneurs in their homegrown businesses at all stages of development to create quality full-time jobs in all the state's communities, ready for global competition."
Minority entrepreneurs such as Angelica Zurita, owner of two Mexican restaurants in Wallowa County, have tapped into the resources offered by the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District (NEOEDD), one of CORE's five regional partners. CORE has helped Zurita raise awareness about her two restaurants in Enterprise and Joseph.
When she started La Laguna Enterprise in 2003, she spent time doing research on women and small businesses. Part of her research involved contacting the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce for information on businesses in Enterprise, Oregon. It was their recommendation that put her in touch with Myron Kirkpatrick of the Wallowa County Business Facilitation.
“Myron helped me work a business plan,” said Zurita. “Myron walked me through it and I learned to do it myself”. Wanting to make it on her own financially, Zurita turned down financial help from her family and gives credit to the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District (NEOEDD) for giving her a loan. “Myron told me about Lisa Dawson and I called her,” said Angelica.
Zurita was put in touch with Lisa Dawson at NEOEDD. Dawson said she saw something in Zurita. “She had knowledge of the business and industry”, said Dawson. “She also did a good job of preparing a business plan through Wallowa County Business Facilitation program and she had matching funds to bring into the business. She had really done her homework and had great personality and drive.”
The matching funds Dawson refers to came from a loan the Zurita acquired from Community Bank. “I had no money”, said Zurita, “and my family would ask what I would do if I failed. I asked them back, what does a child do when they fall down? They get back up and try again”.
Dawson also feels that Zurita has a great product. “La Laguna provides excellent customer service and the food is good”, she said. “It's amazing that this is the first Mexican Restaurant in Wallowa County. Angelica could see there was a demand for Mexican cuisine in this market and no one else was providing it.”
Advocating for Small Businesses
CORE has been working with its network to support rural small business owners like Zurita access seamless, comprehensive business services.
"Oregon is a small business state," said Valerie Plummer, a CORE business partner and director of the Oregon Microenterprise Network. "About 4 out of every 5 businesses in the state have five or fewer employees. These businesses provide more than half of all non-farm jobs available in Oregon."
Looking at Oregon's current economic delopment policy, it's clear that "recruitment" of business from outside the state takes precedence, said Weber.
"It's not that recruitment efforts whould be replaced. Economic development is a three-legged stool. In Oregon, two of those legs need some extension," she said.