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Owner of rafting firm featured on YouTube

Brad Niva poses no threat to Alec Baldwin or those Vikings promoting Capital One credit cards on TV.

Nonetheless, the owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures and Wine Hopper Tours now owns his 31/2; minutes of YouTube video fame, thanks to the interest of Capital One's Spark Business in small firms such as his.

Along with 150 other proprietors and entrepreneurs, Niva's passion for what he does has been captured by a traveling crew hired by Capital One to flesh out the small-business stories.

"I'm always trying to wear the Southern Oregon hat in whatever I do," said Niva, board president of the Southern Oregon Visitors Association. "So any publicity I can do to support our region for tourism, ... that's what I want to do."

In the depths of last summer's recreation season, as smoke from numerous wildfires choked the air above the Rogue River, opportunity knocked. He read in a chamber of commerce publication about a program in Boston designed to help business owners.

"The fires were devastating, and I was trying to do anything and everything," Niva said.

Even if it meant filling out a 40-page application.

"With all the essay writing involved, I felt like I was applying to college again."

Then in January, he was accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Initiative program at Babson College in Boston.

Having left the Fortune 500 world of pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline to buy a rafting company in 2006, Niva said he was in his true element during the three-month study.

"I came out of the program absolutely blown away by what I learned and the amazing other business owners I got to meet," Niva said.

It also put his business on the radar of Capital One's Spark Business.

The various offerings of Rogue Wilderness Adventures, which include rafting and kayaking on the recreational and wild Rogue sections, caught the eye of director and producer Trisha Dalton and editor and cinematographer John Sears, who were hired by Capital One to produce its "I Am Small Business Proud" campaign.

They were sent to capture mom-and-pop businesses around the country, traversing the continent over a 10-week period. Grants Pass was stop No. 147 out of 150.

"I'm at a sales meeting in Dallas, Texas, and the company I'm working for brought in an inspirational speaker to come in and inspire us to, of course, go sell more product," Niva told the camera. "What it made me do was go home, sit down with my wife and say, 'Let's quit our jobs and go follow our passions.' So we bought a rafting company in 2006."

"The river scenes and whitewater tell just the kind of story tourism people want to tell," Travel Southern Oregon CEO Carolyn Hill said.

"The type of visitor drawn to Oregon is going to be attracted to the 'Oregon Dreamer' type of story," Hill said. "He talks about pursuing his dreams and how his business has become an important part of his future; it resonates with visitors. If it were an inspirational video about something people weren't interested in, it wouldn't have the same impact."

While it's his rafting, kayaking and adventure business that grabbed the camera crew's attention, Niva is also a wine-tour operator and a partner in Northwest Brochure Service, which stocks racks with brochures throughout the region.

"If my company gets put on a pedestal and recognized, it's good for all of us here, because it makes people aware of what this region has to offer," he said. "The idea is for people not to drive through in one day, but to stay two or three days and taste our wine, go to Shakespeare, the Britt Festivals, take Hellgate jet boats or go fishing. We want to make sure we're recognized on the state and West Coast platform; we're always struggling to make sure Oregon doesn't stop in Eugene."

The team from Capital One has created an online travelogue detailing their travels across America over the past 10 weeks. After leaving Rogue Wilderness Adventures, they visited several Ashland-area businesses, including Waterstone Spa, Northwest Raw, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Larks and Cripple Creek Music.

To watch the video about Rogue Wilderness Adventures, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLmS7RSnzw

For more about Capital One's "I Am Small Business Proud" program, see www.iamsmallbusinessproud.com.

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

Brad Niva - Submitted photo