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A Facebook page dubbed 'Woodburn's Open' helps area businesses communicate with their customers around the community

WOODBURN AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce logoThe aptly named Facebook site says it with clarity: "Woodburn's Open."

A critical executive order from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to combat the spread of the coronavirus is also clear: "stay at home and save lives."

The straddling point between the two is where vital services, such as food and other supplies, require many businesses to remain open while strictly adhering to stringent sanitation standards and social distancing to minimize scenarios that feed into spreading the virus.PMG FILE PHOTO - Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Zobrist

"There are lots of businesses that are still open," said Woodburn-area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Zobrist, who established Woodburn's Open as a tool for businesses and their customers. "The biggest thing now is a paradigm shift in how we can conduct business."

Examples of that are plentiful, including Wheeler Dealer employees wiping down refrigerator doors, sanitation wipes made available at the entry of many stores, and Safeway holding special hours from 7 to 9 a.m. for shoppers who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and people with preexisting medical conditions.

Perhaps one of the hardest hit is the food-service industry as restaurants and bars have been shuttered for all in-house dining and activities. Not surprisingly, many of those have made effective use of Woodburn's Open by highlighting their take-out options.

"A lot of businesses right now are really concerned with their ability to stay in business if they can't conduct business," Zobrist said. "But I wouldn't say there is widespread panic."

He drew an analogy to 9/11/2001 when terrorist attacks shut down many operations for a few weeks. At that time, many businesses that were highly leveraged went out of business. Highly leveraged businesses could be similarly susceptible in the current climate.

Fortified business resources

On a positive note, having endured economic turn downs twice already this century, including the 2008 recession, means that tools have been developed to minimize the adverse effects of another one.

Zobrist said there are more resources available at multiple levels — local, state, and federal — that weren't in place earlier in the century, as many public officials have learned from earlier woes.

The Oregon Small Business Association (OSBA) released a story on March 27 that depicted local businesses supporting each other.

The piece noted that Aurora Colony Pub, as an example, has seen a spike in its take-out orders, stemming from other local businesses, such as Northwest Hazelnut Company and Columbia Helicopters.

Sisters Stacey and Janae Chapman own the pub.

"We couldn't keep going without support from other local businesses who have stepped up regular orders — companies like Columbia Helicopters, a local credit union, even Burgerville — are placing orders," the sisters told OSBA. "In return, we are trying to do the same. We're trying to do everything local because that's the heart of everything."

Northwest Hazelnut owners, brothers Shaun and Larry George, called the Aurora Colony on March 17 to deliver over 50 lunches to their staff and crew at its Hubbard plant, following up with a weekly Friday order for about 50 lunches for the foreseeable duration of the statewide stay-at-home order.

"When we saw this coming, we decided to buy lunch for every employee in the company two or three days a week. For many of our employees, their spouses have lost their jobs, and locally owned restaurants in the area are hit hard," Shaun George said. "We work from a predictable menu with restaurant owners that helps keep them efficient and enhances profits while giving our employees a break from the cost and inconvenience of bringing in lunch.

"It's about small business helping small business," George added. "It worked so well last week that this week we added another restaurant. We're now buying lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays for everyone in the company, and we hope to add a third — El Tule Taqueria in Woodburn — next week."

Government action

Public officials have encouraged similar patronage from individuals and peer businesses alike, while also keeping abreast of the resources that can help businesses weather the economic storm.

"I can tell you that our businesses are being well taken care of by our city economic development staff, Chemeketa's Small Business Development Center, our Chamber of Commerce and PCUN's business liaison who are all helping businesses navigate their options at this time," Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson said March 27 in his weekly Mayor's Corner address.

The same day a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill aimed at staving off economic devastation passed the U.S House of Representatives after the Senate passed it 96-0. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law.

"The CARES Act will designate hundreds of billions of dollars to our health care workers for desperately needed personal protective equipment, ventilators and will allocate funds to study and combat the coronavirus," Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said. "Lower- and middle-income Americans will receive direct cash assistance to help them with daily expenses during this uncertain time. Finally, as a long-time small business owner, I understand the unique challenge that this time has presented to small business owners. The CARES Act allocated 350 billion dollars in completely forgivable loans so that businesses can continue to pay their employees and keep them on the payroll.

"I understand that this is a stressful time for Oregonians, especially those who are small business owners, hourly wage workers, and health care providers," Schrader added. "I stand with all of you as your representative in Congress, and I will work to make sure that these measures are swiftly enacted."

Closer to home, the Marion County Board of Commissioners assembled in a work session with the county's Economic Development Coordinator Jason Schneider to discuss an economic stimulus funding proposal.

The timing could not be more crucial as on March 26, the Oregon State Employment Department announced that it received 76,500 initial unemployment insurance claims by mid-March, up considerably from the 4,900 claims filed during the initial week of March.

"There are literally hundreds of programs that can help, but the problem is navigating businesses to those resources," Zobrist said. "There are resources on the chamber's e-blast, certainly the Facebook page, Oregon State Chamber of Commerce and (a developing) Phase I, II and III pandemic response from Federal Government. Details are being worked out.

"They're also adding money to unemployment, helping people who are unemployed and locked out of their business — like a hairdresser would be locked out."

Zobrist said it is important for businesses that are distressed to stay active. For example, if their hours are changed, business owners should be sure to update their websites or own Facebook profile pages to reflect that.

"I can say this: Inaction is not going to help," he said. "Active steps now make the difference...Businesses should make sure they update changes in their google (online) profile. If says on Google you are open until 9 p.m. and you are closing at 6, that person may not call or (seek) that service next time.

"You don't want to lose the customers you have already gained."


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