April 16, 2020

OCF Hosts Town Hall to Share COVID Support for Small Businesses

Restaurants, once bustling with patrons, are closed. Retail shelves are gathering dust. Small businesses, the fabric of vibrant economies in both urban and rural communities, are reeling from the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help businesses weather this storm, Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) established the Small Business Stabilization Fund.

Watch webinar recording »

On April 16, OCF hosted a virtual town hall to share information about the Small Business Stabilization Fund with over 300 participants representing businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations from around the state. As an organization that values the power of convening, OCF has pivoted to online gathering spaces, such as webinars, to continue to engage with stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An interactive poll during the webinar revealed 40% of participants were from the Portland metro area, with representation from all regions of Oregon.

Panelists at the town hall included OCF leadership and representatives from partner funders of the Small Business Stabilization Fund, including Business Oregon, Prosper Portland, Wells Fargo, and Craft 3, one of the first recipients of a grant from the Fund.

Established in mid-March with an initial investment of $300,000 from OCF, the Small Business Stabilization Fund has attracted over $2 million in additional donations from corporate partners, government entities, and private donors. These include the Oregon Growth Board, Prosper Portland, Wells Fargo, Umpqua Bank, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Columbia Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Portland Gas & Electric, NW Natural, The Ford Family Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, Tillamook Creamery, and many additional generous donors.

Goals and Criteria

The goal of the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund is to rapidly provide funds to organizations that can issue small grants and low or no-interest loans to small businesses. The fund makes grants to nonprofit community lending organizations such as community development financial institutions (CDFIs), economic development districts, credit unions and economic development agencies with city, county and tribal governments.

Compared with traditional lenders, these organizations serve a higher percentage of women, people of color and rural business owners that can’t access traditional financing from banks, according to Troels Adrian, Business and Industry Manager of Prosper Portland. Adrian shared that Prosper Portland received 11,000 applications in three days for its program to support small businesses, an indicator of the enormous need.

“We are aiming to cushion the blow to small businesses that this pandemic is having until more state or federal resources are available or business resumes to a pre-March 1, 2020 level,” Melissa Freeman, Director of Strategic Projects at OCF, told attendees of the town hall webinar.

Review Process

Organizations given priority in the review process include those that have a three-year track record of supporting small businesses and those that support women, people of color, and others who are most vulnerable in this crisis.

A steering committee, comprised of funders and led by Freeman, reviews applications on a weekly basis and makes recommendations to the OCF Board of Directors. In addition to applying an equity lens to the review process, the committee aims to balance grants regionally around the state to meet the needs of both urban and rural small businesses. Acting with speed has been a priority of the committee, which recommended grants of over $650,000 in the first two weeks of the fund’s launch.

Steering Committee member Chabre Vickers, Community Development Officer at Wells Fargo Bank, appreciates the focus of the fund on small businesses that have been locked out of traditional sources of assistance and the engagement with rural communities.

“Equity has led our conversations,” Vickers said. “Specifically, supporting businesses of color and those who may not have been able to access the SBA Fund have been our focus.”

At a Time of Uncertainty, a Bit of Hope

As an early recipient of these grant funds, Craft3 is working in partnership with cities and regions around the state to provide much-needed grants and loans to small businesses. Adam Zimmerman, President and CEO of Craft3, is keenly aware of the cash crunch being faced by so many small businesses. During the town hall event, he shared his appreciation of the Small Business Stabilization Funds to support Craft3 as a community development financial institution in engaging with communities to leverage and bridge funds for small businesses.

“We— and by ‘we,’ I mean the economic development agencies in Oregon--are going to be challenged,” Zimmerman said, “We fully acknowledge that nobody has a silver bullet. But we have a lot of buckshot.”

In the face of the COVID pandemic, the Small Business Stabilization Fund is one example of that buckshot spirit—offering rapid, much-needed support to Oregon communities.