BY TIM MCCABE | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
There are indeed real differences in both the challenges and opportunities faced by rural and urban regions of Oregon. Rural areas of the state have not seen the economic recovery that urban regions are experiencing. A critical function of Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, is to use the tools, resources and expertise available to us to facilitate job growth in both rural and urban Oregon.
While commerce is certainly concentrated in urban areas, it is rural Oregon that has the urgent need. So I am proud that while 25% of the state’s population resides in rural Oregon, approximately half or our work is happening in partnership with rural companies.
Since 2007, looking at our finance programs, 54% of the loan and loan guarantee funds were used for rural Oregon projects. Our work with community banks to make more capital available to rural businesses was particularly critical during the recession.
In addition, the flexible Strategic Reserve Fund, which is often used to provide forgivable loans tied to job retention and creation, actually has the same distribution with 54% of SRF projects happening in rural Oregon over the same period. This program is often employed when a project has a unique need with no other resource available to fit that need. For instance, SRF was used to help Shimadzu Manufacturing expand its Canby facility creating 50 new jobs instead of expanding in Asia. But it was also utilized to help a small oyster larvae operation - Whiskey Creek Oysters - solve a pH water problem that threatened the entire oyster farming industry along Oregon’s Pacific coast.
On another important front, Business Oregon’s export assistance has helped 120 Oregon small businesses from all over the state find overseas customers for their products. These trade show appearances, aided by small $3,000 to $5,000 grants, is helping these companies realize $28 million in new revenue from a $483,000 state investment in matching grants since 2012.
Taking a step back and looking at Oregon’s overall economic development strategy: it’s the role of state government at the top level to deliver core services that increase economic opportunities for all Oregonians: such as health care, education and infrastructure development.
At the next level, we drive economic growth in specific key industries. Currently, Business Oregon focuses on advanced manufacturing, outdoor gear and active wear, clean technology, forestry and wood products and high technology. Our approach allows us to engage with partners in both urban and rural areas to try to grow these industries in which Oregon holds global competitive advantages.
We work on regional initiatives employing innovation strategies, often through the Oregon Innovation Council, to develop a robust food processing cluster in southern Oregon or an advanced manufacturing hub in the Columbia Gorge. We employ our expertise regarding entrepreneurial initiative or workforce development or our ability to certify lands for industrial development to spur job growth statewide.
Then at ground level, Business Oregon’s team of business development and finance experts work directly with Oregon companies, most of them with fewer than 50 employees, to help match their business needs with the resources at our disposal: access to capital, export assistance, tax incentives, business consulting and innovative solutions. Our people can serve as a single contact for a broad range of business services, for both programs we administer, as well as those existing elsewhere with our partners. We can make those connections and identify solutions.
In addition, we also “answer the door” when companies come knocking to look at expansion in Oregon. We pro-actively pitch the state in a targeted way both throughout the U.S. and overseas. We promote trade relationships in foreign countries, and look for opportunities for collaboration.
Our mission is clear and pronounced: help as many Oregon companies as is possible, both rural and urban, to create and retain as many jobs as they can for Oregonians.
Tim McCabe is the Director of Business Oregon.