We all know that the pandemic has hit many small businesses hard.
I’ve been wondering how our local businesses are faring. So, this fall, I undertook a 40-day tour – 40 businesses in 40 days — to learn about the health of our small business community in Marion and Polk Counties.
I discovered, although the shutdowns have been hard, our local businesses have found a host of creative ways to remain vibrant by adapting their services to meet the changing needs of our community.
Fresh N’ Local Foods, a Salem company that provides school lunches to children across Oregon, might have closed down when schools went virtual. Instead, they kept their employees working by pivoting to serving organizations that provide meals during emergencies.
In Independence, I visited Curves, a fitness center for women. When people were unable to exercise in their facility, they delivered equipment to customers at home, held outdoor classes and checked in weekly with their members to support their fitness goals.
During the pandemic, the owner of Flourish, a small Salem grocery and salon, found a way to develop a new product line of African-based food mixes. Her customer base now covers the Willamette Valley and beyond.
The owner of Grain Station in Monmouth told me many of his employees have been with him for decades and are like family, something I heard often. Like him, many owners have gone to great lengths to help their employees during some really tough times.
Many employers reported difficulties hiring staff, delays in the supply chain and higher than expected expenses under evolving safety protocols. But in spite of these challenges, they remained hopeful for the future and encouraged by the recovery they are already experiencing. State-offered PPE was critical, but even more important was the support of a loyal local customer base.
We must support our local businesses.
During the last legislative session, I was able to secure nearly $500,000 in grants for small businesses in the region and more than $10 million to help expand public transportation to bring employees to work and customers to shop.
Next up must be affordable child care to help people get back to work, new support for business startups and a streamlined planning process for smaller businesses, some of whom must wait months for approvals.
Finding ways to encourage entrepreneurship, including among our BIPOC community, is critical to our ongoing recovery, as several owners mentioned. I also encountered a lot of support for Career and Technical Education in our school districts and at Chemeketa Community College.
My recent tour of local businesses reinforced my conviction that small business owners— our neighbors — serve as strong pillars of our community, especially in a crisis. They are committed to building a better future for us all, and they deserve our loyal support.
During this holiday season, remember that when you buy local, you help to build back our community as a healthy and vibrant place we can all call home.
Deb Patterson represents Dist. 10 in the Oregon Senate, which includes Marion and Polk counties and much of Salem. You may reach her at Sen.DebPatterson@oregonlegislature.gov
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Guest Opinion: Touring Salem local businesses a lesson in resiliency