SOUTH COAST — Small businesses are vital to a thriving local economy.
Local economies flourish or falter depending on the success or failure of small businesses, since 97.6 percent of all employers in Oregon are small businesses, according to a profile of the state of Oregon published by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy in February.
“We know small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” said Camron Doss, SBA’s district director out of Portland. “We appreciate those 335,000 small businesses in Oregon that open their doors every single day.”
These small businesses employ 55.5 percent of the private sector workforce.
A small business is defined as having less than 500 employees, and the majority of Oregon’s small businesses — 74.6 percent — have no employees.
Libbi Brigham, owner of Timebomb in Coos Bay, said when locals spend money at small businesses, it feeds back into the community and “makes it more lucrative.”
“On a general scale, it keeps big business from coming in and taking over the town,” she said. “Those take money out of the hands of the middle class.”
A study by economic development consultants Civic Economics last year found that locally-owned businesses retain more than three times as much revenue in the community as do chain stores. Independent stores recirculate 52.3 percent of their revenue locally, compared to 15.8 percent of national chain stores’ revenue, according to the report.
The biggest difference was seen between local and chain restaurants. Independent restaurants returned more than twice as much to the community as did chain restaurants.
“In most communities the lion’s share of revenue of local government is property- or sales tax-based,” said SBA regional administrator Calvin Goings, though Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax. “So having a thriving, dynamic downtown core ... you have businesses that are able to expand and to be an active participant not only in the community voluntarily but they pay their share into the local coffers.
“A healthy dynamic downtown means a healthy dynamic city where people want to live, work and grow their business.”
The importance of small businesses was further amplified with the launch of Small Business Saturday in 2010. Small Business Saturday is held the day after Black Friday every year.
Stephanie Wilson, owner of Painted Zebra Designs in North Bend, said the Small Business Saturday initiative brought awareness to the “shop local” cause.
“It’s hard because [Small Business Saturday] is right after a big shopping day,” Wilson said. “It would almost be better if it was a different day.”
That didn’t stop a crowd of shoppers from lining up outside her shop on Black Friday last year.
“But I don’t see people giving up Black Friday for Small Business Saturday,” she said. “Even if they get out that day and look around, they can come back later. Anything that gets people in the door, then they might find out they really like the store.”
SBA leaders said the Small Business Saturday initiative has worked.
“Last year, 69.7 million people who shopped on Small Business Saturday did so because of the awareness effort, with an estimated $5.5 billion in sales to individually-owned businesses,” Goings said. “We’re bullish and optimistic that will be even higher this year.”
Not only do small businesses help the community financially, they’re more apt to donate and give back to the community that supports them, Wilson said.
Goings said small businesses stand out in that they join the local chamber of commerce and support community organizations, events and causes.
“They’re the key to that fabric that makes small communities, downtowns and Main Streets what they are,” he said.
Jan Tucker, owner of Pottery Co., said she would love to see more small businesses in downtown Coos Bay, especially on Central Avenue.
“They feed off of each other when people come downtown and see other businesses,” she said. “Small businesses fill those niches that big boxes can’t.”
While Tucker said it’s hard to see how one individual small business has the ability to boost the local economy, when combined they have a greater impact.
Oregon set a new record this year: small businesses received more than $457 million in loans supported by SBA and lending partners.
“That’s on top of $429 million we did in fiscal year 2012 and on top of $390 million we did in fiscal year 2011,” Goings said. “We’re setting record after record after record in the state of Oregon.”
In Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties, SBA doubled its lending to small businesses from a combined $15 million in fiscal year 2012 to nearly $36 million in fiscal year 2013.
“Those are loans that are helping businesses in your communities keep their doors open, their shelves stocked and their employees paid,” he said.
Just as she hopes others patronize her business, Brigham said she tries to shop local as often as possible.
“I think you get way better service and a more personal feel at a small business,” Wilson said. “I listen to the customers and what they’re looking for instead of them having to go through a big corporate office.”
Southern Oregon is especially driven by small businesses since it’s more remote, she said.
Most people assume her busiest days are in the summer, but that’s not the case.
“It’s steady year-round because I have the community behind me,” she said. “It’s just a bonus when the tourists come here.”