Chamber: be ready for more competition

30 Madras businesses are invited to participate in retention program
By Troy Foster
   News Editor
   They're coming.
   As Jefferson County and Madras continue to grow, so do the interests of outside businesses determined to bring their operations into emerging markets.
   That's why the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce along with county, state and local agencies are mobilizing to assist area businesses through an extensive retention program.
   The goal is to help area businesses be prepared for the inevitable.
   "The whole premise of this thing is to look at what we can do to get our businesses ready when the competition comes here," said Parrish Van Wert, the chamber's executive director. "Because it is coming."
   The Chamber of Commerce is looking for 30 Madras businesses to participate in a five-phase program modeled after a similar one carried out in Eastern Oregon. Specifically, they are looking for willing participants within the proposed Urban Renewal District.
   The chamber hopes to strengthen, retain and grow local businesses that it views as key the area's long-term economic growth and prosperity.
   "Our strengths are with the businesses we already have," said Dianne Hanlon, who sits on the chamber's board of directors. "With the prison and new community college on the way, this is a good time to take a good look at our businesses and what they need and keep them viable."
   The program has enlisted the help of the Oregon State University extension office, Central Oregon Community College, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, Oregon Economic Development Department and other agencies.
   It works like this:
   After the chamber prioritizes its objectives and secures funding, 30 participating businesses will be surveyed. This will include an interview by an impartial, outside firm to identify their strengths and weaknesses, wants and needs.
   Once this information is analyzed, organizers will create solution teams to act on those assessments.
   Finally, the program will match businesses with proper federal, state and local development programs. That could lead to anything from providing businesses free courses in computer skills to assisting them in outlining written business plans or linking them to local product suppliers.
   "People who make mistakes here learn by their wallet," Van Wert said. "One of the most frustrating things as small businesses is that we have to work our businesses. We're working the tills. We're working with customers. How do we get the education if we don't have the time?"
   By using the 30 Madras participants as a benchmark, it is hoped that a model for all Jefferson County businesses can be established.
   The county commissioners directed $2,500 to kickstart the estimated $20,000 project. The Chamber of Commerce has also applied for state funding. The program costs nothing for participating businesses.
   With new developments and a population predicted to increase 76 percent in the next decade according to one estimate, chamber officials said now is the time to strengthen the city's existing business core.
   "We know that more businesses are going to come, but we want the businesses already here to remain because they're our foundation," Hanlon said. "They're who got us where we are today."