GROW Santiam has parlayed advising small business owners into a record-high client mark and a new name.
“We just passed the 200 client mark this summer,” said Allison McKenzie, executive director and enterprise facilitator. “That’s a big milestone for us. It’s pretty exciting!”
Started in October 2008, GROW is a program under the North Santiam Canyon Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that mentors and educates small business owners. GROW offers free, confidential, one-on-one business coaching to any entrepreneur in the North Santiam Canyon that wants to open, expand or improve a business.
GROW has been so successful that a name change is in the works, and once the state approves, the organization be known as GROW EDC.
“This will better reflect the scope of our services and territory, and also makes it easier to remember,” McKenzie said. “We are in the process of creating a new logo as well as updating and improving our website.”
Meanwhile, GROW continues to live up to its tagline: “Leveraging grassroots resources, helping businesses grow.” In the past year alone, the organization mentored 83 entrepreneurs, plus seven local government, nonprofit or business association clients.
“Of those 83 businesses, 49 were start-ups,” McKenzie said. “All but two are still in development, with 34 businesses officially open. Another 34 are existing businesses in one form or another, five of which opened their doors just beyond the 12-month mark. So, 54 represent new business activity in roughly the past year. Even in this economy, that’s a lot of people!”
GROW also helped business owners retain 71 jobs this year, create 64 new positions, and make plans for adding 64-108 jobs in the next 12 to 24 months, she said.
“More than one existing business was saved from bankruptcy during this period, while several others needed help finding staff people to fill vacant positions,” McKenzie said. “A few clients were looking at business acquisitions as well, some of which have been completed while others are still in process.”
New clients who have opened this year include: Where to Start Fitness Studio, Aumsville; A Candy Occasion, Sublimity; Bell Amie Wedding & Event Planners, Sublimity and Aumsville; DeNova Coffee Café, Sublimity; Wheat, Stayton; and HD Open House, Sublimity.
“GROW gave us the tools to approach our business plan with smart strategies designed for succeeding,” said Brian Corcoran, owner of HD Open House, specializing in high definition real estate photography. “We were able to present our ideas to a group of local business individuals who gave their professional opinion on what we had presented and helped us move in the right direction.”
Corcoran and his wife and business partner, Carrie, loved the promotional materials they received, providing “great feedback” on what GROW thought would help them reach their client base.
“Knowing where and how to start with your business plan is the hardest part of starting a business,” he said. “GROW shows you the steps to take as you go along, and continue to be a great resource to bounce ideas off long after your business is already established.”
For Denise Purdy, owner of Belle Amie Event & Wedding Planners with Mary McMahen, a GROW class helped motivate and help them focus on their priorities needed to grow their business.
“We have learned where to put our time and effort so that we can be effective in building our business,” Purdy said. “We have learned a great deal about marketing and where to go to get the help we need with our business.”
Jane Kuenzi, owner of the new bakery, Wheat, in Stayton, said for her, “It was helpful to understand I could utilize the knowledge of my family and friends to create a stronger network for my business.”
Kuenzi also benefitted from McKenzie’s help in creating a basic business plan, including production, finances and marketing, she said.
McKenzie credits GROW’s free marketing and business round tables, held once a month at Trexler Farms, for some of the program’s success. “Existing businesses don’t want to talk to marketers,” she said. “They want to talk to their business peers. Our model is collaborative – do what really excites you, work with others on the rest.”
The organization’s microenterprise assistance classes, made available through a community development block grant submitted by the City of Lyons via HUD with GROW as sub-contractors, also contributed to business success.
“We held 36 learning events, with 49 people attending, targeted toward low-moderate income entrepreneurs in Aumsville, Mill City, Lyons and Idanha,” she said. “We applied for a grant via Lyons to serve our entire territory, and hope it comes through. We’ll know soon.”
McKenzie also met from one time to once a month with clients in 11 communities: Mill City, Stayton, Aumsville, Sublimity, Scio, Lyons, Idanha, Gates, Mehama, Breitenbush and Detroit Lake. Businesses represented included: advertising/public relations, agriculture/ranching, art, construction, education, healthcare/wellness, hospitality, logging, manufacturing, publishing, real estate, recreation, wholesale/retail, services and transportation.
“These do not include the nonprofits, business association or government groups who had help from us,” she said. “The Stayton-Sublimity Chamber of Commerce joined us this year.”
Another established business coming on board is Fresh 2 You Produce, a Stayton mainstay owned by Nancy Hendricks.
Several GROW-assisted businesses report business is booming, leading to expansion in some cases, McKenzie said.
“Sugar & Spice Bakery had their best month ever in July,” she said.
Owned by Bonnie Taylor and Sarah Smith, the bakery moved from their kitchen to a tiny shop in Lyons, and offers some of the “best baked good around” in the early mornings, McKenzie said.
Sharlene Trexler of Trexler Farm has expanded twice with GROW input and is working on expansion number three, McKenzie said.
“Sharlene opened a café for lunch year-round, opened a Boat Room next to the café’s main room to accommodate groups, and is refurbishing the barn for Farm in the Barn gift store,” she said.
Two other success stories center on Into the Wild Equine Adventures, an equine trail ride business owned by Jahn and Sheila Hoover, and Friends of Silver Falls State Park’s nature store for which GROW helped retrofit a log cabin for store expansion.
“They have been wildly successful in that new location, and last year were able to give $13,000 back to the park for the first time ever, and give their new administrator a raise and a bonus!” McKenzie said.
With GROW’s growth comes the need to expand its resource board, she added.
“Right now we have 58 members, and will be adding more this fall,” she said. “This is the group that brainstorms 10 times a year on behalf of clients, meeting in person as a group or participating via e-mail to offer connections, expertise, ideas and general know-how to entrepreneurs.”
To find out more about GROW, call McKenzie at 503-871-5188 or e-mail her at Allison@growsantiam.org.