By Mary Owen
Allison McKenzie can be reached at
Aumsville entrepreneur John McGinn doubled his business last year thanks to help he received from a unique North Santiam Canyon program.
“And he’s not alone,” said Allison McKenzie, enterprise facilitator for GROW. “To date, we’ve helped 122 clients with their business needs – half existing businesses, half brand new. We also retained a vital Canyon business through financial management assistance.”
GROW, or Growing Rural Opportunities Within, is part of the outreach of North Santiam Canyon Employment Development Corp., a group of self-defined “movers and shakers” out of Mill City. Started in 2008, GROW offers free, confidential, one-on-one business coaching to any entrepreneur in the North Santiam Canyon who wants to open, expand or improve a business.
“We help business owners find what they need that leads to success,” McKenzie said. “We amplify what they already are good at and help them find others to help them succeed.”
Since working with GROW, McGinn and his wife, Skye, owners of All Pro Webworks, added a bookkeeper and administrative assistant to handle their business details. “This freed me to be involved in doing the marketing and sales of the company,” McGinn said. “One of the things we talk about at GROW a lot is having people in their specialties.”
With clients, GROW covers three areas: marketing/sales, product/service and financial management.
“The trinity of management concept taught by GROW helped us identify areas in our business that could be improved,” McGinn said.
A resource board of 50 business professionals is available for consultation, an added plus that can help grow a business, McKenzie said.
“We also help create jobs,” said Mike Medley, chairman of the NSCEDC board of directors. “To date, GROW serves clients in 16 industries.” These are: art, advertising, agriculture/ranching, construction, education, government, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, nonprofit groups, publishing, real estate, recreation, retail/wholesale and services/transportation.
The GROW model is based on research conducted by the Sirolli Institute that concludes the best way to develop rural businesses is to use an enterprise facilitator, in NSCEDC’s case, McKenzie. “The clients who get the biggest bang for their buck are those who frequently call me,” she said.
The enterprise facilitator counsels existing and would-be business owners to make informed decisions about the viability of their ideas. As this is a client-focused process, the client determines the pace and frequency of their meetings with McKenzie.
Some people decide not to go into business after receiving counseling, McKenzie said, but that’s not the norm. With assistance, most take the leap, and some invest as little as $2,500 to get started, she said.
McKenzie and Medley agree potential business owners should have enough income to fund the first three years to allow for refinement of income resourcing such as Small Business Association loans or grants.
Some of the best support these entrepreneurs can have is from other business owners. “We host a marketing powwow once a month at Trexler Farm,” McKenzie said. “We call this ‘creative partnering.’”
Just like the businesses it helps, GROW benefits from mouth-to-mouth advertising, she said.
“We get a lot of people stepping up to share their expertise,” she said. “Every person who comes to us has access to a multitude of hometown people who stand ready to offer their brainpower, creativity, optimism and experience to help entrepreneurs succeed.”
To create a collaborative marketplace for local entrepreneurs, NSCEDC sponsors throughout the summer the Cascade Foothills Saturday Faire, organized to provide an opportunity to showcase arts, crafts, locally grown foods and creative wares. The Faire is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month June through September along Highway 22 in Gates.
“I believe that helping to improve our local economy through promoting small business growth and assisting citizens in finding jobs is an effective way to help all the people of our community,” Medley said on the NSCEDC website. “When people have adequate income, they worry less about paying rent and utilities, are more able to share loving relationships with their families and are able to be more productive citizens within the community.”
People who are creative and passionate about their community inspire NCSEDC’s project manager Mia Mohr. Mohr loves working with them through the GROW program.
“GROW is doing so well,” she said. “It’s making a tangible difference!”