Small Business Saturday emerged in 2010 as an antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, encouraging holiday shoppers to purchase products from local brick-and-mortar stores.
But despite the growing economy, Small Business Saturday sales declined for the first time last year. For many local artisans, makers and craftspeople, the sales they make between now and the New Year keep their business afloat. The National Retail Association reports that 20 percent to 40 percent of yearly sales for small and mid-sized retailers take place at this time of year. As wages and household income increase, we all need to reinvest in our community by supporting small businesses.
According to recent data from the Small Business Administration, there are over 368,000 small businesses in the state of Oregon, which means that 97 percent of all businesses are small businesses. These small businesses employ more than 55 percent of the private workforce. In other words, small business development is not a niche issue but rather a central driver of our state’s economic vitality.
Ironically, while small business are the backbone of our economy, many would-be entrepreneurs lack the basic ingredients to succeed – first cash-up-front and then the business expertise to grow. People who have a creative idea are often denied access to conventional banking and loans because of limited or non-existent credit or collateral. And, even when they do find the money, many lack the background, education and mentors to be successful.
Mercy Corps Northwest, the Pacific Northwest-focused economic development arm of the international aid and development organization, helps fill that gap. We provide small business education, grants and loans to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. In 2018, we helped 1,397 entrepreneurs, over half of whom were in the startup phase of their business. Over 40 percent of our clients are entrepreneurs of color and over 50 percent are women.
Every day we see evidence that when micro-enterprises thrive, there are positive ripple effects throughout the community. Ground Up PDX co-founders Julie Sullivan and Carolyn Cesario, for example, created their small business not just to provide healthy and delicious nut butters, but also with a mission to empower women. They created a job-training program for women who have experienced homelessness, been involved in the sex industry or who have faced other adversities. Thanks to an exciting partnership with New Seasons Market, women who have completed the Ground UP PDX job-training program can earn full-time employment.
While Mercy Corps Northwest and other micro lending institutions help local entrepreneurs turn their vision into reality, once a business is off the ground the community has a critical role to play. When we all support local small businesses, we see new services and products crop up. We also benefit from a stronger tax base, sustained self-employment as well as job creation and retention.
To help ensure a successful holiday season for our small businesses, Mercy Corps Northwest will show off the artisans and makers nurtured through education, loan and grant services at the fifth-annual “Northwest Made” holiday market, taking place Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 45 SW Ankeny St. Not coincidentally, the event takes place on Small Business Saturday, just after the Thanksgiving holiday. This holiday season let’s all do our part to help the small businesses in our community thrive. When small businesses flourish, we all benefit.
Andrew Volkman is director of small business development services at Mercy Corps Northwest.