Local business owners and entrepreneurs have a new tool at their disposal.

Local business owners and entrepreneurs have a new tool at their disposal.

All 17 of Oregon's community colleges as well as Southern Oregon University and Eastern Oregon University are adding market research offices.

Southern Oregon University Market Research Institute, funded by a $53,000 grant from U.S. Bank and $40,000 from the Oregon Business Development Department, has hired its first half-time employee and two more are on the way.

Small Business Development Center clients can tap into the Market Research Institute's research databases to examine customer demographics and characteristics, industry trends and forecasts, and competitive analyses. Most of the institute's services are free, although more in-depth and customized research will be fee-based.

SOU graduate student Zach Reutlinger relishes the opportunity to pore through a collection of data bases acquired by the SBDC. (Correction: The spelling of Reutlinger's name has been corrected throughout this story.)

"Doing research for companies is like doing detective work," Reutlinger said. "It's kind of cool when you can pull up information and then companies can use that information to make money."

Companies can determine their target demographics and then pinpoint target markets through data analysis.

"It makes all of their market functions way more efficient," said Reutlinger. "I can prevent people from wasting money and show them what things won't work beforehand."

There are limitations, the MBA candidate said.

"If someone wants to create a beer company, finding data is really, really easy," Reutlinger said. "But if they wanted to create a bubble tea shop, it would be harder, because the market isn't that big."

SBDC Director Jack Vitacco said he plans to hire additional students to staff an office at the Higher Education Center in downtown Medford.

"The work they will be doing is 90 percent secondary research," Vitacco said. "The goal is to sustain it, and there is no reason to believe we won't be successful."

U.S. Bank's donation will be formally presented at the HEC on March 7.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.