Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune Commercial space and apartments are being built off West Valley View Road in Talent. A key finding from a Southern Oregon University survey was the need for capital to rebuild or revitalize businesses in the city in the wake of the pandemic and the Almeda fire.
SOU study details challenges after fire and pandemic as city strives to revitalize economy
A new cafe in Talent has brought customers back downtown, but restarting businesses after the Almeda fire is a challenge for many, a study from Southern Oregon University says.
In a related development, a revitalized Talent Business Alliance is moving forward to address some of the challenges and the Talent City Council allocated $20,000 last Wednesday to help implement an event calendar designed to attract more people to Talent.
The Vintage Coffee House opened last week. Owners Phoenix Sigalove and Lichen Richardson had operated the Daddy Ramen food truck, but lost it to the fire.
The new business sits next to the location of the former Downtowne Coffee House, which closed shortly before the pandemic began.
“What I’ve been told is that many people who used to frequent Downtowne as a socializing center are very happy that we are here and filling that void,” Sigalove said. “Every day we have a lot of old regulars in our space.”
This week, a new Daddy Ramen food truck is set to be located next to the cafe to serve as a commercial kitchen for meal service. The truck was primarily at a site in Talent before the fire, but has been used for occasional special events and will also take over that role.
The interior of the place, a former stained glass workshop, has been reworked for the new business. The start-up was done without the financial assistance of agencies or governments.
The cafe’s opening hours are 8 am to 2 pm Tuesday to Saturday. It is located at 250 E. Wagner St. It seats up to 30 people indoors and similar outdoor seating.
One of the main findings of the SOU survey was the need for capital to rebuild or revitalize businesses. Labour, customer and supply shortages were also seen as barriers, with respondents worrying about the business climate and Talent’s uncertain future after the fire and pandemic.
City officials commissioned the survey to find out the impact of the fire on businesses and barriers to business re-entry. Graduate students from Southern Oregon University conducted the study as part of their Masters of Business Administration requirements.
Lindsay Burns, Ana Maria Hoffmann, Steven Sawyer and Ryan Wommer created and administered the survey and used a list of business contacts that Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. had worked with. The survey was conducted electronically and consisted of 20 questions.
Fifty-four companies responded to the survey. Of these, 87% were in Talent. Others were in nearby Phoenix or operated in Talent and other cities.
Nearly a third of respondents had been in business for one to five years. A quarter had been in business for six to 10 years, and another quarter had been in business for more than 15 years. About a third of respondents reported total damage to their buildings, while 23% suffered no damage and others suffered minor or moderate damage.
The typical respondent had been in business for one to five years, rented or leased their space, estimated that 75% or more of their customers were from Rogue Valley, had minor or no fire damage, and were in the business of retail.
Two-thirds of businesses said they had resumed or planned to resume their activities in the area affected by the fire. But 14% had resumed in other cities, while 9% were undecided and 9% did not plan to restart. Indirect effects such as lost revenue and slowed operations were detrimental to businesses for respondents who did not experience fire damage.
Asked to choose three factors that would benefit them most in rebuilding or strengthening businesses, 25% said monetary assistance was best, while 18% cited rebuilding customers and 13% said they got help. help in applying for financial aid.
Short-term recommendations from the study included building connections between business owners, supporting access to financial assistance, and organizing small events. Longer-term recommendations included finding commercial property and creating a creative space.
Talent Business Alliance has already begun work to rebuild the customer base. The organization, formerly the Chamber of Commerce until 2019, was not active after the pandemic emerged, but began meeting again in March. Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood is the head of the TBA.
The board approved the $20,000 price for its discretionary fund, which still had $26,350 available for the current year.
On April 21, a TBA kick-off meeting drew 40 attendees who ranked a “Boost and Amplify” program to rebuild the customer base as their top priority.
TBA presented a slate of 19 events, including traditional talent events such as the Harvest Festival, Day of the Dead, Light on Bikes at Christmas, and a holiday market. The Talent Market will also take place monthly during the summer and in conjunction with Art Walks.
Under TBA’s plan, grants of $1,000 would be awarded to organizations hosting events. Funds could be used for music and entertainment, equipment, fees, permits, marketing and promotions.
Ayers-Flood has already reached out to other organizations for additional grants to help support a proposed budget of $76,000. Among those contacted are the Ford Family Foundation and Umpqua Bank.
In addition to the stipend, the council also approved TBA as a subrecipient of an $8,000 Pacific Power Foundation grant to the city. TBA will use the money to help transition it to 501(c)3 nonprofit status from 501(c)6 mutual benefit status. The foundation approved the reassignment to TBA.
Contact Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at [email protected]