How Beaverton reached Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs during COVID
What began as a door-to-door effort to reach Beaverton's small business community during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned into a case study on the impact of meeting people where they are at.
At the start of the pandemic, city leaders married IMPACT Beaverton, a resource center offering free business education, with Washington County's Business Recovery Center, which was financed through federal COVID-19 relief funds, with the intent of connecting small business owners with some much-needed assistance.
That's when Gustavo Gordillo and then-Beaverton business advisor Emma Clark jumped into action. Gordillo took the lead knocking on doors and engaging with the community, particularly Beaverton's Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.
Gordillo, 47, said he helped establish "Business Walks con Gustavo" to demystify the complicated nature of some of the COVID-19 guidelines that came out early in the pandemic, and to assure business owners that the challenges they dealt with weren't theirs to bear alone.
Gordillo said his aim was to be "present and empathetic" with them — and particularly with people who don't speak English as their first language.
Gordillo and his family moved from Mexico City to Beaverton in 2019, so he is familiar with the challenges that come with living in a community where language is a barrier.
"The important thing for me is that they know and feel that they are understood and supported," Gordillo wrote in an email in Spanish.
The sort of outreach Gordillo and other representatives from IMPACT and the BRC did isn't anything new when looked at through a political lens, said Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty.
"You can't just be passive and wait for people to come ask for help, you know," Beaty said, "We need to go out and ask people, 'How are you doing? How's business doing?'"
Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Steve Smelley said part of Gordillo's gift with the community is establishing trust.
"If you hear somebody say, 'We're from the government, and we're here to help,' you might bristle if you don't speak the language. And imagine if you're an immigrant and you've opened up your own business here locally, and you're just trying to do your best in your community. (Gordillo) was able to get through that and establish trust and credibility and provide resources and support. The gratitude that has been shown is off the charts," he said.
Through IMPACT, Gordillo and others were not only able to get business owners the personal protective equipment they needed but also walk them through obtaining some of the grant relief options.
IMPACT assisted 286 businesses over 12 grant rounds, Gordillo said.
IMPACT also offered free one-on-one consulting services, workshops, and classes as well.
Stephen Parisio, who owns SP Tire Service in Beaverton, told Pamplin Media Group in April 2020 that he was able to grow his income "significantly" through IMPACT's free accounting classes.
IMPACT also helped other entrepreneurs in the community open their very first business.
"I'm super-grateful to IMPACT Beaverton because thanks to them and their coaching, I was able to (open) my business," said Guadalupe Gutiérrez, who registered her business, Kowabunga Indoor Playspace last October.
Beaverton economic development director Mike WIlliams came out with Gordillo several times throughout the pandemic to touch base with businesses. He said he had never seen business owners in the community "so engaged."
"We would spend like a half an hour per storefront, whether it was a little tienda or a small grocery store or a restaurant," Williams said. "We learned all sorts of different types of things, and (Gordillo) really was good at getting the businesses talking, talking about their business, and just listening."
Gordillo's warmth was felt by all members of the community, not just Beaverton's Spanish speakers.
Mohammad Khalafi-Nezhad remembers the first time Gordillo walked into his business, Rose Neighborhood Market on Southwest Lombard Avenue.
"The first time I met (Gustavo), he came to my store," Khalafi-Nezhad said. "He was so friendly and very helpful."
Over the past 16 months, IMPACT/BRC has helped 392 clients, almost triple the number of clients reached from 2015 to 2019.
Of their 387 active clients, more than three-quarters are people of color, nearly half of which are Spanish speakers.
Earlier this year, Beaverton city councilors approved up to $90,000 for IMPACT to hire a new director to assist Gordillo as well as fund additional programming. Smelley said the intent is to eventually have someone who is immersed in other languages as well to reach all members of the community.
While many of Gordillo's colleagues praise him for his efforts, Gordillo wants to make it clear that he can't take all the credit.
"The most important thing about all this work is not one person," Gordillo told Pamplin Media Group in an email, writing in Spanish. "We are all a team, and without them, nothing would have been achieved."
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