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Center sees business growth

The Small Business Development Center in The Dalles is working on deals involving two separate businesses — with an investment of more than $5 million — that will bring new jobs into the gorge.

Jeff Nicol, regional director for the center at Columbia Gorge Community College, said an existing business is seeking to expand and another to start up operations, both in Wasco County. He could not provide more information due to confidentiality agreements but is optimistic the two companies will be able to announce their presence sometime in 2014.

He said phones are ringing more at the 400 E. Scenic Drive office with the economic recovery underway. In calendar year 2013, the center received verification from businesses that its personnel had helped generate more than $300,000 for growth.

Nicol is anticipating a verification of more than $275,000 in calendar year 2014.

“Large deals take a lot of time and there’s some big money at stake this year, and big jobs, so we’re pretty excited,” he said.

Area businesses will be further helped by a new marketing research tool that has just become available through the state network of centers. Funding has been provided by U.S. Bank to establish a research institute at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

A team of graduate students and faculty advisors at the college will compile reports of market data that are based on the specific needs and industry sectors of clients.

Information will be gleaned from existing databases to detail customer demographics and characteristics, industry trends and forecasts, competitive analyses and much more.

Most of the institute’s services will be provided at no cost, although more in-depth and specialized research will have a fee attached.

Semiannual newsletters will also be provided for the small business community, elected officials and economic development organizations.

Nicol said anyone interested in accessing these services can contact him via email at jnicol@cgcc@edu or call 541-506-6120.

He recently told the college board of education that PocketFuel Natural Foods, a Hood River-based company, is one of the shining stars of the gorge center.

The business provides on-the-go energy snacks and drinks for athletes and recreationists and started in the college’s commercial kitchen. PocketFuel now has multiple employees and its products are sold at hundreds of locations.

The medical professional sector in the region has also benefitted greatly from the center, which is one of 19 in Oregon, according to Nicol.

“One notable client is already up to four physical locations,” he said.

Nicol, who resides in Hood River, took the helm at the center after Mary Merrill retired in December.

The local office received just under $250,000 in funding for 2013 from the state, national organization and the college general fund. Nicol is hoping to gain enough funding in the college’s fiscal year budget for 2014-15 to increase the current staff of full-time equivalent employees from 2.7 to 3 to provide even more of these services:

• Assistance for businesses preparing loan forms to enlarge operations.

• A financial analysis to aid owners in making data-driven decisions.

• A small business course that can help an entrepreneur increase efficiencies and become more profitable.

Because Merrill left things in excellent shape, Nicol said that he is able to be forward focused and work on increasing the availability of technology-based resources.

In 2013, the center served 285 clients with 2,108 counseling hours. An average of 3.9 hours was spent with each client but 62 required more than five hours of assistance. In addition, 22 training events were attended by 159 people.

“Things are going well and our clients like us,” he said.

Nicol brings experience to his new job gained in several public offices. He has also been actively involved with the Gorge Angel Investor Network and the Gorge Technology Alliance.

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