Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the third installment of a Business Issues Forum for Coffee Roasters here in Portland. It was convened by our Congressional Representative Earl Blumenauer and held at the Stumptown Coffee Roasters HQ.
As with the previous meetings, all Portland-area roasters were invited to attend. This forum, however, had a different agenda than the earlier versions. In the prior forums, there was more give-and-take with the Congressman as he wanted to hear about issues and concerns facing the Portland coffee industry. In yesterday’s event, the Congressman arranged some speakers to address the concerns previously raised by the roasters.
The agenda had three primary parts. First, there was a presentation about the Oregon wine industry. Specifically, the Congressman said that listening to the coffee roasters at the earlier forums, he found it striking how similar the two industries (and the people in those industries) were. “The most ardent environmentalists I know,” he said, are the people who work in the Oregon wine industry, people who are intimately knowledgeable about their land. Hearing about the ravages of rust and knowing the coffee community’s concern for environmental issues made the Congressman see the commonalities between the two, even if Oregon is not a prime growing region for coffee as it is with grapes. The presentation on the history and success of the Oregon wine industry was fascinating, and I think holds a lot promise for the coffee community. (Look for a separate post on that later this week.)
The second part of the forum yesterday was the issue that caused a lot of consternation at the previous forum, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and its impact on employers and small business. In the prior forums, there were many more questions than answers, and the Congressman promised to get somebody to come and talk in detail to the roasters about the ACA. In Oregon, implementation of the act is ahead of most of the country, and CoverOregon our state’s new central marketplace for health care insurance is a model for other states. Jennifer Morgan gave a slide-show presentation about how the marketplace will work, the timeline for implementation, and how it will affect small businesses over the next few years.
The third piece of the agenda was answering (and building on) another concern raised in previous meetings, access to credit for new and growing businesses. To that end, Rob DuCote, Acting District Director for the US Small Business Association (SBA) spoke about opportunities for finance, education, and more that the SBA provides. His message was fairly simple. “You are not alone,” he said. The SBA is here to help. It has options to help small businesses get financing, but also myriad educational opportunities including classes, mentoring, technical advice, and counseling. “Get a business counselor,” DuCote said. “If you’re a new business and you don’t have a financial advisor get a counselor.” There are many free services offered by the SBA, he said, and they can be invaluable in growing a business. Most of the counselors, for example, who work with the SBA are retired financial professionals, and they know what to look for in business plans that can help land a good loan.
All in all, the forum seemed like worthwhile endeavor and something I would recommend other communities try with their local and/or federal government reps. While Oregon’s wine industry may be unique, other communities no doubt have successful businesses the coffee industries there can emulate and learn from. And things like financing, the SBA, and the Affordable Care Act affect every business (and person) in the country, so there’s definitely much to learn.