Paul Vogel

Starting or running a small business can be the most fulfilling and challenging thing to do, all at the same time. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy; we all count on them and often take them for granted. Locally, we are missing resources to help our small businesses be as successful as they can be. The pandemic and resulting economic disruption underscored that in red, but also offer a unique opportunity to fix it.

Columbia Economic Team has a plan for a Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) that will contain a Small Business Development Center, or SBDC. We’ve never had one locally, and while the pandemic exposed that shortfall, pandemic relief funding provides the resources to correct that. Columbia Economic Team has approached each of our city and county leaders to commit American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to establish an SBRC. And the statewide SBDC Network has committed to fund the rest, so we’ll have our own local Center for the first time plus a statewide network of resources and capacity. Who is it for? It’s for each of our communities, and maybe it’s just right for you, too.

Do you have an idea for a business but it’s not off the ground yet? Or your business is up and running, the door is open, but you’re not yet profitable; things still feel new or uncertain.

Maybe your business is generating consistent income, you regularly see new customers and you’re looking at new opportunities to grow.

Or you need adjustment to changing business conditions, necessitating new processes and big decisions to move your business forward.

Perhaps you’re preparing for the next stage, ready to make a big change in your ownership and exit to new opportunities.

If any of those sound like you or someone you know, our local Columbia Small Business Resource Center will be here for you all, providing these services and more:

• Advising -- confidential and provided at no cost, to help with planning, analyzing cash flow, accessing capital, marketing, hiring and more. Experienced advisers bring important skills and perspectives to help businesses thrive.

• Training -- to learn the skills you need for a successful business. Experienced instructors teach classes on marketing, bookkeeping, human resources, business planning and other topics businesses need to master for success. In the classroom and online, businesses owners learn from each other as well as instructors, developing important skills that lead to thrive.

• The Capital Access Team, specialized advisers focused on helping local businesses access the capital needed to launch or grow. Many are former lenders who understand the local capital landscape and help businesses determine the best path forward.

• The Global Trade Center helps Oregon businesses connect to the global market with specific advising and training to succeed internationally, available to all Oregon small businesses at no cost through our local SBDC.

• The Market Research Institute delivers actionable business intelligence, using the latest business research tools to provide no-cost and low-cost reports to help small business owners —that’s you -- make better market-building decisions.

• SCALE Oregon helps growing, established traded- sector companies reach the next level with specialized advising, CEO mentoring and opportunity to access other services including market research, business planning, and financial analysis.

• The Small Business Management Program is a unique combination of classroom learning and one-on-one advising. For up to three years, business owners really learn how to run a successful small business while collaborating with peers.

• Special assistance with Spanish-speaking advisers who are often trusted members of the Latino community, providing 1:1 advising at no cost, helping small business owners start and grow.

• SBDCs partner with the Oregon Construction Contractors Board, offering classes for new contractors that meet the CCB's 16-hour study requirement to be eligible for the Licensing Exam.

• If it’s time to leave a business you’ve spent years creating, SBDC transition assistance advisers help business owners create plans to help make the process easier to transition from one party to the next, whether family members, employees or third parties.

• Oregon's SBDCs help business owners with Disaster Resilience Planning to prepare for the worst before the worst happens – like the pandemic. From accounting file cloud back-up to supply chain risks, preparing for employee emergencies to financial planning and risk mitigating tools. The past 18 months have shown us that nothing is more important.

• Add to that SBDC Cybersecurity and Innovation programs to help protect against cyber threats and obtain grants for innovative solutions.

• SBDCs also help small businesses recover from disasters, assisting with access to federal resources, budgeting, cash flow, and understanding state assistance programs and the needs of the whole business, supported by the statewide network, specially trained advisers, and resources.

• Our SBDC will use proven business tools like GrowthWheel, a visual toolbox that helps business owners make better decisions and take action with their business, and is offered free of charge, exclusively, to Oregon SBDC clients.

• Or LivePlan, advanced software that simplifies business planning, budgeting, forecasting and performance tracking for small businesses, available at no cost for Oregon SBDC clients.

• And Bizminer, accessible to business advisers and directors at each SBDC, providing industry statistical reports, including financial analysis benchmarks at national, local and zip code levels.

You’ll notice “at no cost” throughout these offerings -- once we have an SBDC. Invaluable, highly accessible assistance is what we’re asking our local leaders to invest in. Along with the statewide Network, the cities of St. Helens, Vernonia, Columbia City, Clatskanie, Scappoose, and private individuals have invested already. Rainier and the County Board of Commissioners are currently considering the plan. We’re very close to full funding as a four-year start-up, enough time for the Center to prove its worth and get traction, just like a good business.

On behalf of the 1,400 small businesses here today and the hundreds more we want to see tomorrow, this is a huge step forward in recovery, resilience and a small business sector that will sustain our communities for generations.

Paul Vogel is the executive director of the Columbia County Economic Team. He may be reached at 503-410-1061, or at paulvogel@columbiacountyoregon.com.

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