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Small Businesses Receive A Helping Hand From Columbia County Small Business Development Center

Small Businesses Receive A Helping Hand From Columbia County Small Business Development Center

Depending on who you talk with, our economy is either on an upward swing, or stuck in a morass, with continuing inflation affecting businesses and consumers.

However way you slice it, the Columbia County Small Business Development Center (SBDC), still in its infancy, is helping small businesses get the footing they need.

The center started in April 2022. It’s the 20th such center in the state of Oregon, and the newest center in over a decade.

“The center really was birthed out of the necessity of being able to serve small businesses and deploy resources here in Columbia County,” said center Director Jason Moon.

Before the center opened, it was more of a challenge for small businesses to get the help they needed. Moon said there was a high need for resources.

“(Businesses) were serviced by Portland Community College’s SBDC,” Moon said. “But typically, if you lived in Columbia County, you would have to drive to Hillsboro, or downtown Portland, for services. … We just felt there was a big gap there, especially for our north county residents (people in Rainier, Clatskanie and Vernonia), for them to get to downtown Portland. That’s not an expectation we felt was fair to small business owners out here.”

The Columbia County Small Business Development Center offers several services to small businesses, including free confidential business advising, loan application packaging, marketing plan strategies, help with navigating regulatory processes and cash flow matters.

Moon said more businesses are using the services provided by the center.

“It really has grown from year to year,” he said. “The first year, we were hovering around 100 new clients from that span of April to December.”

Moon noted that about 70 new clients were added the second year and it’s expected at least another 100 to 120 new clients will be added this year.

The center opened about the time COVID-19 was receding from the headlines, yet new challenges, including inflation, continue to haunt some businesses.

“I think most small business owners are feeling an impact of the economy, and it’s mostly around costs right now,” Moon said. “The cost of doing business is more. The price for materials, food, or labor, that’s another huge obstacle and hurdle for business owners.”

Moon said that since the pandemic, concerns have included people leaving the workforce and the need for businesses to retain workers and provide a living wage that makes sense for both employees and employers.

The supply chain of goods, greatly affected during the thick of the pandemic, is another factor that caused economic headaches.

“We’re still experiencing a little bit of that in certain categories,” he said. “I think, mostly, supply chain has been figured out, but again, at a cost.”

Moon continued, “Everything from the pandemic, because it was either hard to get or impossible to get, kind of drove up that price, and now, those prices never went back down. That’s a huge factor for small businesses.”

Commenting on the small business center, Paul Vogel, executive director of Columbia Economic Team, said, “Three years ago, when we set up our own SBDC here, many wondered if it would work, being independent and locally initiated. Two years into operation, our Columbia County SBDC is far exceeding business client registration goals and most expectations.”

Vogel added, “This is a testament to the confidence of the state SBDC network, the need and commitment of local business owners, and to an exceptional team of advisors and specialists, led by Jason Moon.”

Moon is optimistic as the community makes it through 2024 in Columbia County.

“I am optimistic, just in the growth that we have seen throughout the county,” he said. “You go to Vernonia, and it feels vibrant. Storefronts are open and there are murals on the side of buildings. Same with Clatskanie: it feels like there is really good movement that is happening out there.”

Noting, also, the potential of the Waterfront Project in St. Helens , Moon said, “It feels like there’s a lot of hope and optimism out there. It’s just being able to identify the right entrepreneurs to take on those storefronts and open those businesses, and then be able to support them.”

In 1983, the Oregon Small Business Development Network Development Network was launched and is part of the America’s Small Business Development Center’s national network.

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