|Nita Shah and Felicia Wells Thomas|
The economy is on life support. Jobs are hard to come by. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, now may not be a bad time to start a business. That's according to Nita Shah, executive director of Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, the nonprofit that helps small businesses grow.
"Our statistics are still the same: 96 percent of our clients are still in business," Shah says. "So I think it is a good time to be in business, if they have done their research, and if they have community support.
"Right now the way to win is to get the community involved from the beginning. And in Portland in particular, the community is so willing to support local businesses. Portland people buy local and they like local products.
"So, if you have done your homework, and have investment from community members you still have a very good shot at having a livable income."
Shah said many financial experts say today's economic climate has become, the 'new normal.' Maybe, she said, instead of trying to do things the way they've been done in the past, "it's time to embrace the new normal, and see what we can do with the new normal."
In fact, Shah says the Alberta Street nonprofit has a little more money for loans than in previous years, because the Small Business Administration has designated MESO as its micro-lender.
Maggie Reilly, program manager from the development nonprofit Community and Shelter Assistance, based in Sherwood, Or., said MESO got that job because its clients have been so successful.
"Their statistics are the best of any of our partners," Reilly said. "MESO has the highest retention rate of all our partners and we have 60 across the state."
Business Trend: Services for Baby Boomers
Shah sees a trend in businesses that cater to the aging baby boom generation. For example, transportation and shopping services that help seniors, could be in demand. Health care too will be a growing industry, she said.
"Young people should be asking themselves: What kind of businesses will be needed to support that generation and what education can you get so you can take advantage of these opportunities?"
Another trend she sees is creative collaboration among business owners. Three businesses on N. Williams St. – Inside Source, Screw Loose Studios and Soap Box Theory, decided to share space, saving on rent, and expanding their customer networks.
"All three businesses are doing well because they have used great , very creative, strategies," Shah said.
Working with a diverse and growing group of clients such as Jimmy's Dry Cleaners, Williams St. Market, Origami Catering, Imagination Station Daycare and Screw Loose Studios, Shah says the nonprofit aims is to increase client income by at least 25 percent over three years. Many businesses that work with MESO historically have done even better, some increasing their incomes by 400 percent.
"For micro-businesses, which is who we work with, this recession has lasted so long, and the idea that it may last even longer makes it harder for people. But I still think there is excitement at being entrepreneurs. They still have high hopes."
Save $1000 and End up With $4000
MESO works through helping businesses, plan and save, and through access to matching funds. The Individual Development Account program, for example, helps people build capital through matching their own savings. Even people who can only save a small amount each month can end up with a substantial capital boost. The program runs from 13 months to 24 months, depending on how much you can save each month, Shah said.
"It's such an awesome program. If you save $2000, the state and the feds will match it with $6,000. So you end up with $8,000 for inventory or whatever you need to grow your business."
MESO is not the only local nonprofit to offer help to small businesses. Mercy Corp too offers several program, including an IDA saving program, loans and a six-week Business Foundations course.
Charles White is CEO of Corporate Credit Builders, Inc., a Portland company that helps business owners improve their credit scores so they can access market-rate loans from banks. Many people have found their credit rating dropped because of the housing collapse, he says. But, he says, if your credit is good, it's not hard to get start up funds.
"Now is a good time to start a business," he said at the Oregon Small Business Fair, Sept. 24. "The US economy, number one, needs small business owners to start businesses and start employing other people. Number two, this is a great time because banks are lending, and other financial companies are lending also. And number three is that the American spirit still lives, and there are a lot of people with great ideas out there, and people will finance that idea so you can employ other people and make money in America."
Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon
2828 NE Alberta St.
Portland, Oregon 97211
Monday-Friday 9 am - 5 pm
Total Loans made: $254,000
Number of Loans: 52
Individual Development Account allocations: $384,000