RAIN-ing at the Rio

Scott Swanson

Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network on Friday unveiled a series of videos the organization has created to promote local communities, including Sweet Home, to potential business start-ups. 

RAIN has partnered since 2018 with Sweet Home and seven other local cities: Lebanon, Brownsville, Philomath, Harrisburg, Halsey, Adair Village and Monroe, to comprise a group known as REAL – the Rural Economic Alliance.

The videos were screened during a lunch sponsored by RAIN Friday, March 11, at the Rio Theatre, one of the businesses featured in the Sweet Home video. 

“During COVID we wanted to be able to still promote the cities, because the brand is starting to grow here,” said Caroline Cummings, CEO of Eugene-based Oregon RAIN. “So each city has a video featuring a local entrepreneur or two, and also one of the leadership of the city – the mayor, the city manager, the economic development person, talking about why their city is a great place to start a business and grow a business. 

The approximately five-minute videos focus on the benefits of living and working in smaller towns, and highlight the assets each offers. 

Funding for the videos came from the cities, Linn and Benton counties, private foundations and the federal government, Cummings said.

Sweet Home’s features Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen sitting on a bench on a sunlit day with Foster Lake stretching behind him. Larsen discusses Sweet Home’s unique location on the “edge of everything, yet close to everything,” emphasizing the community’s proximity to larger metropolitan centers, and the potential of vacant property available to businesses seeking such a location.

He also highlights the potential posed by the riverfront former quarry property that is being planned as a park and future event venue. 

The Sweet Home video also includes appearances by Chamber of Commerce Director Melody Reese, and comments from local businesses. It will be posted on the city’s website as soon as it is available, Larsen said.

Larsen welcomed the small crowd, which included Sweet Home city staffers, county commissioners Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker, and city managers from around the county. 

“I can’t really take any credit for this,” Larsen said, adding jokingly, “In fact, the worst part about today is seeing me on the screen.

“I’m just excited to have an event like this and show off these videos. You hit on the Rio and the Roxy here, what (owner) Thomas (Baham) has been able to do. It’s really this kind of stuff that we want to generate even more of, because they’ve been a great community partner, taking what previously was an eyesore and created a destination movie theater.

“That’s what we all want in our communities – destination-type organizations and businesses that attract both employees and also customers and just enrich the lives of our residents.” 

Cummings said the project began “eight or nine months ago” to “elevate all of the rural communities in Linn and Benton County.” 

She said her staff came up with the idea of “some fun start-and-grow-here videos” to help with recruitment, business retention, expansion and entrepreneurship. 

Lebanon’s video focuses on the medical school and the fact that young people are being drawn to settle down in the community. 

Others, such as Brownsville’s, key in on the slower pace and safer, neighborly environment found in smaller towns, where residents welcome new businesses. 

Nate Conroy, RAIN venture catalyst for Linn and Benton counties, joked that he had to research the $2 bill before visiting Radiator Supply House, where owners Will and Ryan Garrett and Wes Collins, director of sales and marketing, have made it a practice to pass out those bills, stamped (legally) with the company logo, as a sort of novelty business card. Part of Sweet Home’s video was shot there. 

He said that the videographer “got a lot of really beautiful footage of the community, including a lot of drone footage” that will be available to participating communities. 

One of the business owners who appear in the videos has recently joined the RAIN staff as an entrepreneur in residence with the organization. Rayna Waltz, who owns Sip & Taste, a gourmet market in Monroe, will partner with Conroy to “activate events in the rural community,” Cummings said. 

Waltz said she will help organize meetings with prospective business owners and generally help facilitate RAIN’s efforts to connect with potential entrepreneurs.

Cummings said RAIN has introduced a “new virtual accelerator” called Rainmaker, which will help small business owners with digital sales and marketing, using TikTok and Instagram and Google Ads. 

“It’s totally free, funded by these cities as well as the federal government,” she said. 

Also, she said, RAIN has launched a new program called “RAIN Cap” – which stands for “capital access program,” which provides access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs who need to raise between $50,000 and $250,000. 

Information on those programs is available at raincatalysts.org.

Larsen said RAIN benefits not only individual business owners and entrepreneurs, but the city. 

“Not only are they providing entrepreneur coaching, but they’re also coaching the city.” 

Find a link to the RAINmaker Accelerator at raincatalysts.org/sign-up-for-rainmaker-2022

Find a link to the RAINcap crowdfunding program at raincatalysts.org/raincap