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Opportunity knocks

Recession actually sparks increase in entrepreneurship

Bob Fraley, left, and Tim Boldt prepare to hoist an engine into a car undergoing repairs Saturday in Independence.

Photo by Pete Strong

Bob Fraley, left, and Tim Boldt prepare to hoist an engine into a car undergoing repairs Saturday in Independence.

November 13, 2012

POLK COUNTY - When Bethany Schamp and Scott Viegas parted ways with Ovenbird Bakery in downtown Independence in September, the couple knew they wanted to continue running a business.

It's come about quickly. Schamp and Viegas snatched up a storefront vacancy on Main Street in Independence and are "in the thick of a remodel." They recently bought ovens, commercial mixing equipment and furniture and are a few weeks away from opening Lion's Share Coffee & Bakery.

While both are experienced bakers who've been proprietors before, there's anxiety with being a start-up, particularly when "we've put everything we have into it," Schamp said.

"In the nature of (creating a) business, you can't hedge your bets too much," she added. "During a recession, it's a scary thing to do. But we feel comfortable in that we've had success doing this before and we know the community."

Layoffs and business closures have been all too common facts of life in Oregon during the last four years because of a sputtering economy.

Scott Viegas pauses while remodeling what will be Lion

Photo by Pete Strong

Scott Viegas pauses while remodeling what will be Lion's Share Coffee & Bakery in Independence Monday.

While it might seem financial uncertainty would be a deterrent to doing something as ambitious as opening your own small business, those involved in business recruitment or training say the opposite is true.

"I've noticed that when the economy is down, there's an uptick in entrepreneurship," said John Swanson, city of Dallas economic development planner and specialist. "Whether it's people worried about retirement, people who want supplemental income or are worried about personal finances ... people get creative about how to earn money."

The number of for-profit entities -- limited liability companies, business corporations, etc. -- registered with the Oregon Secretary of State fell between 2010 and 2011, but has increased steadily during the last year and a half to 186,754.

The Chemeketa Community College Micro Enterprise Resources, Initiatives and Training (MERIT) program provides courses for would-be business owners to scrutinize their idea, guide them through the opening process and determine if they can actually make a profit.

MERIT executive director Forrest Peck said there are 120 students currently enrolled, nearly four times the total in 2007.

"What we're seeing is people with a much higher skill level and education level come to us," Peck said. "I think that's because these are people who've been in the workforce for many years and suddenly find themselves displaced.

"But they're discovering what they know has value and are trying to figure out a way to sell that knowledge."

Bob Fraley and Tim Boldt, both of them MERIT students, plan to open MI-Auto Sales for Monmouth-Independence in the coming weeks. They'll acquire cars with little or no value, then repair and resell them.

The idea came about when Fraley fixed a car in Boldt's driveway on the cheap and managed to sell it for $1,400.

"The light bulb just sort of went off," said Fraley, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel in Independence.

Investment hasn't been a problem. Fraley and Boldt used proceeds from selling a few cars on their own as start-up funds, while Fraley owns almost every tool and piece of equipment he needs. They'll rent a small space near Pioneer Lanes to display cars, perhaps four or five at a time.

"I've done paperwork for a small business before, it's not necessarily scary," said Boldt, who recently retired from his job at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan. "We're just looking to create extra income," he continued. "We're different in that we have enough resources where we can self-start ... we aren't going into debt."

Personal cash flow, access to loans and the amount of time needed for a start-up during the first two years always present barriers for new small businesses, Peck said.

Schamp said instead of taxing their savings, they managed to find people they knew willing to invest in the new business. They've also handled most of the remodel of their storefront on South Main Street themselves, rather than seek out contractors.

"It can be tough because nobody has a lot of money right now and that's the grease that keeps the wheel going," Schamp said. "You have to find creative ways to do things."

Schamp said there were "brief, crazy" moments back in September, when she and Viegas considered finding jobs.

"But we've done the work for others, we're not cubicle people," she said. "We feel like owning a business is the best way to contribute to a community."

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