Washington County is now home to four "business recovery centers" tailored to help locally owned businesses get back on their feet after being shut down or experiencing a drop in customers due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The centers, which will be located in the chambers of commerce offices in Beaverton, Tualatin and Hillsboro, as well as Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove, are set up with federal grant money for coronavirus relief.
County commissioners agreed to channel $500,000 from their share of the relief money toward the business recovery centers. Federal mandates require the relief money to be spent by Dec. 31.
"Basically, this is a disaster recovery center," said Jonathan Taylor, Tualatin's economic development manager. The North Carolina native said he thinks of it like rebuilding after a hurricane, adding, "Luckily, we've had no capital damage. This is about an economic damage."
Taylor said city government in Tualatin had initially floated the idea of creating such a center, and Washington County wanted to join in. Along with John Southgate, the county's economic development contractor, Taylor helped come up with a plan to create something on a larger scale that will also benefit other cities in the county, he said.
"It's to be a one-stop shop for re-establishing businesses, re-emerging businesses, and yes, even new businesses, and it will help them walk through state and county requirements on re-entry, additional access to either federal, state or commercial financing, local permitting processes," Taylor said.
Linda Moholt, chief executive officer of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, said she is in the process of hiring a full-time business consultant to run Tualatin's business recovery center. She envisions that person providing businesspeople with help when it comes to navigating through the myriad of forms, such as those needed for repayment through the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, commonly referred to at the CARES Act.
"I've heard one of the applications to repay is 11 pages," said Moholt, who hopes to have that new consultant hired by next week. "I mean, it's a super-complicated form."
The Tualatin Chamber is also hiring a bilingual outreach coordinator to check in with small businesses and find out what help they need to get them back on their feet during the coronavirus.
Not only will businesspeople in Tualatin benefit from that center, but also those who have businesses in neighboring Tigard, Wilsonville and Sherwood.
"I think it's terrific," Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik said of the program, although he said it took some time for mayors to convince the county that the federal money was badly needed in the county's incorporated cities.
Bubenik said ideally Washington County will become a distributor of personal protective equipment, or PPE, which can be distributed to those businesses as well.
He said the county has the ability to buy such items in bulk, getting a better price.
"Most businesses can't afford it, or if they buy it, they have to pay a premium," said Bubenik. "So have the county buy it in bulk and get the best price."
Beaverton held a ceremony opening its business recovery center in front of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce on Monday, June 8.
"We are going to be flexible with how we operate, because we recognize that each of our communities within Washington County are incredibly diverse, and I want to thank the county for giving us the flexibility to run our business centers just a little bit differently and appropriately for what our needs are," said Lorraine Clarno, chief executive of the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, as well as Washington County Commissioners Dick Schouten and Pam Treece.
Clarno said the center will be used to help businesses fill out applications for PPE, as well as apply for grants and develop business recovery plans.
While PPE will not initially be available through the county-funded centers, it might be available in the future, Clarno suggested.
"We're hoping, hoping, hoping that we get a nice supply of hand sanitizer, masks, smocks, those type of things," she said.
In Forest Grove, it will be Adelante Mujeres, an organization that provides education and empowerment to low-income Latina women and their families, which will house a business recovery center.
"All of our business community has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," Maribel de Leon, director of microenterprise programs for Adelante Murjeres, said in a news release. "A major step in helping business owners in these difficult times is to open our doors and let them know that they are all welcome. These centers, with bilingual staff, will be ready to assist businesses in all industries and of all sizes."
In that same release, Treece said the county is committed to helping the communities recover during the pandemic.
"We continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to make sure that the people and businesses who call Washington County 'home' can meet these economic challenges," she said.
Commissioner Jerry Willey remarked, "One of the most important things we can do is get information and resources and assistance into the community quickly."
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