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Small Change: Southern Oregon's Small Businesses Speak Out

A local entrepreneur says that there are still many stumbling blocks to owning a business in the Rogue Valley, but some things have improved over the last 10 years.

Posted: May 17, 2018 6:07 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2019 5:11 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — When Norm Kester looks out on his humming factory each day, he sees a business he built from the ground up. He also sees a location perched perfectly just outside the grounds of Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.

Kester admits that one of the main draws to the area for many people is the gorgeous scenery and the easy access to the outdoors. Still, he explains, there is much that can be done in the area to encourage and promote small businesses.

WalletHub is a personal finance website based in Washington, D.C. It recently evaluated just over 1,200 small-sized cities with less than 100,000 people. It ranked them according to the best place to start a small business based on 18 key metrics ranging from average growth in number of small businesses to investor access to labor costs. Medford came in 430th place.

As Jill Gonzalez with WalletHub explained, that’s pretty good. It’s definitely in the top half, and almost in the top third. “Where it seems to be struggling slightly is access to resources,” says Gonzalez. “That includes things like financing, investors, higher education assets, and workforce attainment.”

Joan McBee is a professor and the Chair of Southern Oregon University’s School of Business. She understands how small businesses in the Rogue Valley often struggle to secure financing to get their company off the ground or to bring it to the next level. Plus, as she explains, “I hear a lot of complaints from employers that they can’t find qualified workers. And I hear workers or potential workers say they can’t find a job. So I don’t know what the problem is but they’re not matching up.”

Fortunately, McBee says there are resources for anyone thinking about starting their own small business. One of the best in the area is the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc, or SOREDI.

Colleen Padilla is the executive director of SOREDI. “We have many, many entrepreneurs doing really cool things in our region," claims Padilla. “They don’t just necessarily know about each other. And that’s another role of SOREDI, to help businesses prosper.”

SOREDI helps bridge that gap, allowing businesses to “talk” to one another more effectively. They also hold a variety of events and seminars to help new businesses owners prosper. One such event includes allowing people to attend a faux pitch meetings. It allows new owners to get practice presenting their ideas a products so they’ll be ready when the real pressure is on.

Norm Kester is one of those business owners working to help elevate the profile of businesses in southern Oregon. He’s the owner of Quantum Innovation. This world-class company manufactures and operates equipment that uses vacuum-applied thin film technology. Simply put, they make lenses work better.

Kester remarks how there is much more available in the Rogue Valley than 10 years ago, but explains that it still has weak points—like affordable housing, attracting top talent, and hiring workers with the right skills.

Mindy Hvall experiences the daily trials and tribulations of being a small business owner. She decided to open Bubbles & Bows Grooming and Boutique for pets out of her desire to love animals and express herself creatively. Every day she takes people’s prized pets from drab to fab by washing and grooming them until they sparkle.

Hvall loves what she does but admits that it’s the little things that stress her out. “Most of my struggles are wages going up, insurance, taxes,” she details. “They say there are a lot of tax relief for small business owners but I haven’t found them.”

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