vista2It’s blowing a gale out here in Union County. The sky is nearly black with clouds hanging low over the mountains. The sweeping vista in front of me offers up occasional dots of farmhouses with their clusters of windbreak trees, but that’s about it. I have been the only vehicle on the road for half an hour.

I’m heading in to Enterprise from Baker City, part of my new weekly routine as I begin our InvestOR Ready Accelerator to help rural entrepreneurs raise capital here in NE Oregon.

This is the first set of workshops in our USDA-supported program. Mondays are held in Baker City at the new Hatch Baker. Then I drive over to Enterprise on Tuesday for the same workshop at the NEOEDD offices. Yep, call me crazy, but I’m so excited about what is happening out here!

We’re helping grow an entrepreneurial culture with new ideas, new companies, and new resources.

Last night the first workshop was conducted in Baker City. I am working with five entrepreneurs, three of them women.

I can’t tell you much about who they are yet because they will likely launch community public offerings (CPOs) later, and they can’t reveal who they are until they file. But I can tell you a little bit about how I feel about them already; it’s that same experience I have every time I meet a true entrepreneur. That deep commitment to an idea and to making it work. There’s nothing like a room full of entrepreneurs to inspire me. The state of Oregon is full of people like them in other rural areas. However, the ecosystem for entrepreneurs is not what it is in urban areas, and we need to change that.

HatchBaker

In Baker City we’re launching a new “Hatch Baker” upstairs in the Chamber offices –  a new incubator and resource center for entrepreneurship. Baker City has a population of fewer than 10,000 people, a challenge when creating programs. So, we are excited to be working with the Baker County Chamber of Commerce to create a co-membership program so that no one stands alone. Working on developing entrepreneurial resources in small towns is tricky. We’re going to need all the help we can get. But if last night’s cohort is any indication, we’re on the right track.

One young woman is interested in buying a local restaurant. Why a restaurant? It’s not because she’s a chef, or because she has a fancy new menu. It’s because she cares about food and family, and wants to ensure that she has a livelihood she can share with her siblings.

Another woman wants to create a place for women newly released from prison. She has a program that helps get them on their feet. She’s combining her passions to create a place where women can feel safe and be renewed.

The third woman is developing a new holistic health center complete with chiropractic, mindfulness services, acupuncture, and physical therapy. She represents the new generation in Baker County that wants these kinds of health services, and she is determined to provide them.

Each of these women is an inspiration, and I’m all in. even if I have to slog through snow and wake up to black ice.

So, I’m heading for Enterprise, where I will teach the next workshop.  The colors today are white and blue, not grey. There is a blanket of snow everywhere. Two bald eagles are dancing. It’s beautiful.

snowy-road

I just passed a beautiful historic schoolhouse with the old bell tower on top, and another building with a tall fieldstone foundation. I’ve counted over 10 redtail hawks flying low over the cold dry fields looking for breakfast. A few horses huddle under their blankets with a dusting of snow on top, and cattle are gathered around the back of a truck full of hay.

As a drive into the high country I understand why things move slow here. I start to relax. The distant mountains and quiet are calming. I love being in rural country. It’s as if we have all the time in the world.

But we don’t. If rural businesses are to launch and flourish, their support and growth can’t move slowly. These companies won’t make it if we all behave as if they have all the time in the world. We have to take an active role in the economic success of our communities.

So, if you live in urban Oregon, can I inspire you to pay attention to your rural neighbors? Will you be ready to consider investing in rural businesses? Are you willing to provide the kind of support for these entrepreneurs who have no other access to capital? You may never visit these companies out here in Baker City, Enterprise, or Joseph, but can you see them as a part of our community?

I truly hope so, because they are a part of what make us Oregon.

In fact, rural places are also what makes us America. Half of the US live in rural places, and most are struggling in this new uncertain and global economy. They are battling big box stores, and watching as their children leave for lack of options.

We’ll be talking about this in a session at ComCap16. Join leaders in a discussion about how to meet the needs of rural entrepreneurs, in Oregon and across the country.

Reporting from the road…