Help for small businesses

By ED MERRIMAN Baker City Herald March 16, 2009 12:56 pm
Two workshops planned

To help keep the local economy strong and ensure that Baker City’s businesses thrive during the challenging national economic times, several community-based groups are working together to offer help and sponsor workshops.

These programs are designed to strengthen local businesses, keep independent business owners competitive, and draw customers into the shopping district with special events, according to Ann Mehaffy, program director of Historic Baker City Inc.

She said HBC, the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, Baker City Economic Development, and Baker County Economic Development have formed an economic development alliance to offer support, strategies, tools and resources for overcoming the challenges of today’s economy.

Plans are under way by the alliance for a Small Business Support Workshop series, Mehaffy said.

The groups are also initiating another Buy Local/Local First campaign to encourage consumers to keep shopping dollars local, to discover great locally grown or produced products and to be “green” by supporting local businesses.

Mehaffy said reminding people of the importance of shopping local is an issue rural communities like Baker City have been dealing with since mail order catalogs appeared in 1907.

To illustrate that fact, Mehaffy sent out a copy of a 1907 booklet titled “Baker City, The Metropolis of Eastern Oregon,” which reminds people that when they order by mail, they are sending money out of the county instead of supporting the community where they live and where their children go to school, play sports and attend events supported by local businesses.

An excerpt from that booklet says, “In the long run, more of your money will come back to you if you spend it at home instead of send it to Chicago or some big city.”

Mehaffy said that message is just as relevant in today’s Internet age.

“The work of organizations like HBC, which are focused on keeping their historic or traditional downtowns or neighborhood business districts strong, is more important than ever,” Mehaffy said.

Mehaffy, Debi Bainter, executive director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Bryan, marketing manager of the Baker County Development Corporation and Gene Stackle, business development director for Baker City, said that while the Baker area has lost some jobs and businesses are having to tighten their belts, it’s better here than in many other areas.

“We are doing well compared to places around us,” Bryan said, referring to Baker County’s 9.5 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which is far lower than unemployment rates in neighboring Grant and Union counties.

“The reason why we are doing well compared to other communities is our economy here is diverse,” Stackle said. “We have been working long and hard to build that base.”

He said most businesses in Baker County are independent businesses not part of national chains, so they are not as susceptible to corporate downsizing due to the national economy.

“We are working hard with Historic Baker City, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to put together workshops to help businesses get through the downturn,” Stackle said.

Bainter said several new businesses have opened for business despite the recession, including the new Cutters Edge manufacturing company.

Several businesses have been purchased and the new owners are in the midst of expanding ahead of the summer tourist season, including Baker Subs, Bainter said.

While those examples of optimism in the local economy are good to see, Bainter said during these tough economic times business owners need all the help and community support they can get.

“We are here. Our services are free and confidential,” Stackle said. “We can help business owners decide what they want to do. We can help them put together a strategy to work through this cycle. We can help them do what we call a business tune-up.

“We can help with marketing, with identifying who their customers are and how to reach them,” he said.     

In addition to individual one-on-one assistance, several workshops are coming up to help areas businesses survive and even prosper in hard times.

Baker County Economic Resource Alliance is offering a free business resources symposium April 3 and April 4. Baker County business assistance and resources will be highlighted, with keynote speaker Kathie Nelson addressing “Business Strategies in Today’s Market.”

The business alliance was formed by the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, Baker County Economic Development, Historic Baker City Inc., and Baker City Economic Development.

A resource fair and round table discussion will be included as part of the workshop. For more information, call Stackle at 524-2038 or Bainter at 523-5855.

The workshop “Succeeding in a Down Economy through More Effective Marketing” is scheduled Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City.

This workshop is sponsored by the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District. The cost is $125 and registration is through NEOEDD, 541-426-3598.

At the NEOEDD workshop, regional marketing expert Stacy Green will be sharing strategies to help businesses survive and even prosper through difficult economic times.

“My goal for these workshops is always to help business owners increase profitable sales,” Green said.