Mikkelsen leads area Chambers in effort to support small biz


Leaders representing a majority of local small- and medium-sized businesses across the region recently sent a co-signed plea for support to Gov. Kate Brown and elected representatives on behalf of their constituent businesses.

Vonnie Mikkelsen, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, was a leading force behind the effort. 

“The state’s remedies are anemic. There is little assurance for a small business owner with dropping revenues, depleting reserves, and waning confidence. They need to be heard, and they need to be served,” added Mikkelsen.

Other Chamber leaders who were part of the initiative seeking financial and regulatory relief include: Shauna Neigh, president and CEO of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce; Brittany Quick-Warner, president and CEO of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce; Bettina Hannigan, president and CEO of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce; Lynda Kamerrer, President, Oakridge Westfir Area Chamber of Commerce; and Kari Westlund, president and CEO of Travel Lane County.

“Too many of our small businesses will not survive the winter. The health and welfare of our families and communities cannot thrive without them. They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t vote for this. Their condition is no fault of their own,” said Quick-Warner. “The economic damage to our local businesses and families statewide is in the billions of dollars, not millions.”

Hannigan noted the ripple effects of small-business failure.

“If a small business dies it impacts more than just the owner. It impacts employees and their families. It impacts the business’ landlord and their family. It impacts the vendors the business owner buys from and their families. If this keeps up, the only take-out food will be from the state’s bread lines,” she said.

“You can hear the despair in their voices,” Neigh said from Cottage Grove. “They’ve done the best they can to reconfigure their entire business model without support to meet mandated changes. They’ve got rent, utilities, employees, and other overhead. They cannot wait any longer, and it’s the holidays.”

Neigh has purchased advertising in local newspapers to promote open businesses in her town. 

“It is our hope that the legislature and the governor recognize the dire impact,” said Quick-Warner. “We’re not questioning if they can prioritize small business, we’re simply appealing to get bridge dollars to businesses to help them make it across to the other side. They’ve ordered these shutdowns, freezes, and other restrictions. Now it’s time to offer first aid to stop the bleed-out and prevent the eventual death of thousands of businesses.”

Mikkelsen, whose Chamber has developed an online job board to help connect workers and employers, has supported area business owners throughout the pandemic.

“Businesses such as restaurants or fitness centers have had to bear the brunt of decisions that fully and indefinitely restrict their ability to operate. We’re only beginning to see the dominoes fall as a number of local establishments — and some of our most iconic ones — close permanently. We think the state should be including the economic impacts in the calculus and offering substantive financial remedies in return to offset losses suffered by restrictions,” Mikkelsen said. “As businesses close, the tax base dries up; but the more people that stay employed the more support there will be for essential government services and the legislatures’ other ambitious plans to benefit Oregonians.”

Westlund agreed: “They have incurred exorbitant costs to implement unfunded, mandated health and safety protocols. They have endured ever-changing regulations. They have been forced into new business models to carry them through times of reduced demand – especially during critical tourism and consumer spending seasons. Those who have survived so far barely have the resources to endure the unknowable future and indefinite periods of uncertainty.”

Hannigan explained that tourism in Florence employs approximately 1,900 people and pumps about $147 million into the community each year. “Restaurants are more than a job, or a place to eat, they’re an entire sector of what attracts thousands of people to Florence each year. Without them a massive portion of our economy disappears. Take-out just isn’t going to cut it.”

The group pointed out that recent Census Bureau polling showing that even prior to the Thanksgiving “Freeze” order:

• Nearly 43% of Oregon smal businesses saw a drop in revenue last month.

• Nearly 25% of Oregon small businesses expect to need additional financial assistance.

• This last month more small businesses in Oregon have reduced employment (16.1%).

• 29.9% of Oregonians expect to lose employment income in the next month.

• 7.2% are either not current on their rent or mortgage or have little confidence they can make next month’s payment.

• On Dec. 26, unemployment benefits for approximately 67,866 Oregonians will expire.

Mikkelsen pointed out that November’s distribution of $20 million of small business grants by Business Oregon closed after just 15 minutes due to oversubscription. Similarly, the $55 million offered by Gov. Brown is inadequate to match the current devastation in the local business community as evident by the 1,600 Lane County small businesses that have applied for a piece of the $3.6 million given to Lane County for distribution.

Mikkelsen sent a letter to the governor on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce:

“We recognize that our elected representatives are being asked to balance competing forces carrying immeasurable impact on people’s lives, livelihoods, safety, and security. Our effort today is a reminder to those who hold the purse strings and means to survival that our small businesses have demonstrated exceptional resiliency under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Today we are asking Gov. Brown and the legislature to:

1. Provide a path for the safe reopening of all Oregon businesses who can comply and operate under recently released OR-OSHA Temporary COVID-19 Rules and Regulations

2. Provide for substantial remedies to local small businesses that have, through no fault of their own, been forced to shut down, leaving employees out of work, and harming our local social and economic well-being

3. Dedicate $75 million of state dollars toward a Hospitality Relief fund dedicated to helping our state’s restaurants and hospitality businesses recover

4. Commit to a moratorium on new or increased taxes and fees at the state and local level. Directly or indirectly, these increase the cost of business, goods, and services.

5. Provide for stabilization of the commercial rental market through a short-term tax credit for property owners that are willing to waive debt for commercial tenants that are behind on rent.

We welcome an opportunity to work with you on a balanced approach to remedy and relief for local business and economic impacts on our families and communities. And with deep respect, we look to you for leadership and ask that these concerns be addressed with expedient and substantive measures in an effort to prevent an economic meltdown for the state’s largest employer group – small business.”



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