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Talent tries to get business percolating

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Business space and apartments are being constructed off West Valley View Road in Talent. A key finding in a Southern Oregon University survey was a need for capital for rebuilding or revitalizing businesses in the city in the wake of the pandemic and the Almeda fire.
A study by SOU details challenges faced after fire and pandemic, as the city moves to revitalize its economy

A new coffee shop in Talent has brought back customers to downtown, but restarting businesses after the Almeda fire is a challenge for many, a Southern Oregon University study indicates.

In a related development, a revitalized Talent Business Alliance is moving forward to address some of the challenges and Talent City Council allocated $20,000 last Wednesday to help implement an events schedule designed to draw more people to Talent.

The Vintage Coffee House opened last week. Proprietors Phoenix Sigalove and Lichen Richardson had operated the Daddy Ramen food truck, but lost it in the fire.

The new business is next to the location of the former Downtowne Coffee House, which closed shortly before the pandemic began.

“What I’ve been told is many people who used to frequent Downtowne as a hub for socializing are very pleased we are here and filling that void,” said Sigalove. “Every day we are having a lot of the old regulars in our space.”

This week, a new Daddy Ramen food truck is expected to be located next to the coffee house to serve as a commercial kitchen for meal service. The truck had been located mostly at one site in Talent before the fire, but was used for occasional special events and will resume that role too.

The interior of the location, a former stained-glass studio, was reworked for the new business. Startup was done without financial assistance from agencies or governments.

Coffee house hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. It is located at 250 E. Wagner St. There is seating for up to 30 inside and similar seating outside.

A key finding in the SOU survey was a need for capital for rebuilding or revitalizing businesses. Shortages of labor, customers and supplies were also viewed as obstacles, with respondents worried about the business climate and uncertain future in Talent after the fire and the pandemic.

City officials sought the survey to find out how the fire impacted businesses and what barriers existed to business reentry. Southern Oregon University graduate students conducted the study as part of their Master of Business Administration degree requirements.

Lindsay Burns, Ana Maria Hoffmann, Steven Sawyer and Ryan Wommer created and administered the survey and used a list of business contacts that Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. had been working with. The survey was conducted electronically and had 20 questions.

Fifty-four businesses completed the survey. Of those, 87% were in Talent. Others were in Phoenix, nearby locations or operated in Talent and other cities.

Nearly one-third of respondents had been in business for one to five years. A quarter were in business six to 10 years, and another quarter had been in business more than 15 years. About one-third of respondents reported total damage to their buildings, while 23% had no damage and others had minor or medium damage.

The typical respondent was in business one to five years, rented or leased their space, estimated 75% or more of their customers were from the Rogue Valley, had minor or no fire damage and were in retail.

Two-thirds of the businesses reported they had either resumed or planned to resume operations in the fire-impacted area. But 14% had resumed in other cities, while 9% were undecided and 9% didn’t plan to restart. Secondhand effects such as loss of revenue and slowed operations were detrimental to businesses for respondents who did not experience fire damage.

Asked to choose three factors that would benefit them most in rebuilding businesses or strengthening them, 25% said monetary aid was tops, while 18% cited rebuilding the customer base and 13% said getting assistance in requesting financial aid.

Short-term recommendations in the study included building connection among business owners, supporting access to financial aid and organization of small events. Longer-term recommendations included finding commercial property and creation of a maker space.

Talent Business Alliance has already taken on work to rebuild the customer base. The organization, formerly the Chamber of Commerce until 2019, was not active after the pandemic emerged but started meeting again in March. Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood is serving as leader of the TBA.

The council approved the $20,000 award from its discretionary fund, which had $26,350 still available for the current fiscal year.

On April 21, a TBA kick-off meeting drew 40 participants who ranked a “Boost and Amplify” program to rebuild the customer base as their top priority.

TBA presented a list of 19 events, including traditional Talent happenings such as the Harvest Festival, Day of the Dead, Light on Bikes at Christmas and a holiday market. Talent Market will also be held monthly during the summer and in conjunction with art walks.

Under TBA’s plan, $1,000 grants would be made to organizations holding events. Funds could be used for music and entertainment, equipment, fees, permits, marketing and promotions.

Ayers-Flood has already contacted other organizations to secure additional grants to help support a proposed $76,000 budget. Among those contacted have been the Ford Family Foundation and Umpqua Bank.

In addition to the allocation, the council also approved TBA as a sub-grantee for an $8,000 grant from the Pacific Power Foundation to the city. TBA will use the money to assist in its transition to nonprofit 501(c)3 status from a 501(c)6 mutual benefit status. The foundation endorsed reallocation to TBA.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.