BANDON - New Bandon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ruthie Painter couldn't be happier to be in Bandon, where she can bring her years of experience in the business world to help local business owners.
Painter, who was hired in September, is no stranger to the area. She's been renting a home on Beach Loop Drive for the past five years, and coming here to visit whenever she could get away from her busy life in Ashland. Her grown son Max, a search engine optimization (SEO) programmer, has been living in the house full-time, so it was an easy transition for Painter to move permanently.
"I love the beach and I love being here," Painter said. "I love the offshore rocks and the headlands."
Painter has a long resume that will serve her well in her new position. She most recently worked as a business adviser for the Southern Oregon University Small Business Development Center in Medford, where she advised small business startups, and coached existing businesses on management, profitability and expansion.
She's also worked as a business counselor and instructor as well as a writer and coach, helping authors prepare their work professionally for agents.
Her advice comes from personal experience: Painter has been owner of her own businesses for many years.
Painter grew up just outside Chicago. Her father loved the city and took her there often, to visit the art institute and see Lake Michigan.
Little did she know that her Bachelor of Arts degree in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana would lead her to the West Coast. She met her ex-husband in the mid-1970s after graduating from college. He had just earned his degree from the University of Oregon and convinced Painter to move to Eugene, where the couple opened the Greek Isle Cafe in the Fifth Street Public Market. They co-owned and operated that business from 1974-1981 and sold it for a profit.
"That's really where I got my background in business," Painter said. "I'm a good baker and chef, though I don't do it often now, and we created the restaurant from the ground up."
Eugene suited her well, but Ashland was an even better fit. Southern Oregon University SBDC approached her to teach business classes in the area.
From 1986 to 1997, she was co-owner and operator of Deli La France, a restaurant located in the Rogue Valley Mall in Medford.
Moving to the coast was her ultimate goal, but she wasn't able to find employment that used her skill set. She worked a temporary job with Arlene Soto of the South Coast Business Development Center for nine months but funding ran out for that program.
Eager to help
Now that she's found the perfect fit in Bandon, she's eager to get started.
"Because of my background, I really, really want to work with local businesses wherever possible," Painter said. "If they want ongoing education, I can refer them to Southwestern Oregon Community College, they have a great (small business) program there."
Local business owners have a resource that is underutilized - the award-winning Chamber of Commerce website at bandon.com. Painter can help business owners create their own page on the site that links to their business webpage. She also hopes to expand the bandon.com website to include more content as well as an up-to-date calendar with a comprehensive list of events along the South Coast, marketing the area as a tourist destination.
"It would be nice to give the community (and business owners) more benefits of the website," Painter said. "Bandon.com is already there and is No. 1 on Google when you search for Bandon."
The city of Bandon provides funding to the Visitor Center through a percentage of its transient occupancy tax, but the remainder of the Chamber's funds come from memberships. The director's job is to run the Visitor Center and help all businesses in town, but Chamber members do receive extra benefits.
"I want people to be able to make a living," Painter said. "There are a lot of resources that businesses maybe don't know about and that's what I consider one of my main jobs - being a resource for those businesses."
Painter also hopes to help with networking and has the skills to help new businesses wanting to relocate to Bandon. She and the Greater Bandon Association are in the process of collaborating efforts, focusing on the business community.
Another goal of Painter's is to provide more social networking for Chamber members, including dinners, mixers and peer-to-peer meetings.
Former Chamber Executive Director Julie Miller is now working on regional tourism and economic development as network manager for the Oregon South Coast Regional Tourism Network, a group representing several tourism organizations, which Painter sees as a plus for Bandon.
"It's just lovely to see these groups all working together and I've had the blessing of being almost immediately invited to meetings with them," Painter said. "Instead of duplicating each other's works, these groups are setting up how to work together. We're marketing a regional brand."
Painter wants the public to know that she's here to help and is getting out and about to meet the business community.
"I want people to know they have resources and I'll certainly do whatever I can with my knowledge and network to assist them in growing Bandon."