Diversity boosts Portland's economy
The success of small businesses owned by women and minorities is important for everyone, not just the people who own and work at them," says Gale Castillo, interim executive director of the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
"The workforce is growing more diverse," says Castillo. "It's about all of us making sure that everyone is successful."
Herb Yamamoto, the vice chair of the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs agrees.
"Everyone is in and no one is out," says Yamamoto, who also is the owner and CEO of BIM Connection, a Portland-based mechanical design firm.
Ana Chaud is an example of how the success of a single business can boost the regional economy. She founded and is the CEO of Garden Bar, a take-out salad restaurant that started with one location in the Pearl District in 2014 and will soon have 10 outlets throughout the region.
"I'm in the restaurant business. You want a job, I have them," says Chaud.
Castillo, Yamamoto and Chaud appeared on a panel titled "Small & Diverse Businesses Drive Our Economy" at the Portland Business Alliance's Jan. 16 breakfast forum.
Alliance Chair Dave Robertson started the discussion by saying that according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, there are nearly 370,000 small businesses in Oregon — 99.4 percent of all businesses in the state. More than 40,000 of them are minority-owned, Robertson said.
"At the Portland Business Alliance, 80 percent of our nearly 1,900 members are small businesses. We are committed to supporting women and minority-owned businesses through our programs, partnerships and events. In this year alone, of our new members, one in four identify as a minority, women or veteran business enterprise," Robertson said.
Castillo said her organization started in 1993 in response to counter negative stereotypes of Latinos that were similar to what is being said today.
"They were saying we were all illegals, that our children were all gang bangers, that we were taken jobs away from Americans. We wanted to get the word about the contributions were making and our successful students," said Castillo, saying that the organization current provided bilingual counselling Latino small buisness owners to help them grow.
Yamamoto said his organization provides a range of services to minority small business owners, including microloans and networking events. The most recent one featured a presentation by the Port of Portland about its $1.2 billion Portland International Airport concourse expansion project, where 20 percent of the funds have been set aside for small minority-owned businesses.
"That's $240 million over three to five years," Yamamoto said about the contracting opportunities presented at the meeting.
Chaud admitted that women and minorities can face additional barriers to starting businesses and even finding employment. For example, she did not speak English when she first moved to California to attend college from Brazil. But Chaud described many of the challenges she faced when starting Garden Bar as similar to those faced by anyone starting a small, unconventional business.
"I operate a fast casual concept restaurant. I had to convince people that salads could be a meal. I had to compete against a chain for a location I wanted in the Pearl District for my prototype. I worked a second full-time job to show I was viable and had skin in the game," Chaud said.
Castillo, Yamamoto and Chaud all agreed that rapidly increasing costs pose a threat to the growth of women- and minority-owned small businesses. Each of them cited the example of San Francisco, where costs are so high, that it has become unaffordable for those with lower incomes.
"You have to be able to earn a living wage. We have to invest in the workforce, including education and technical training," said Castillo.