SHARE doubles downtown improvement dollars in 2011

Sean C. Morgan


In its third year of existence, the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort has more than doubled its investment in downtown improvements and is reshaping programs that are part of an effort to more effectively help local businesses in 2012, based on input from local businesses.

SHARE spent $20,000 in its Commercial Exterior Improvement Program this year, said Economic Development Director Brian Hoffman. “With that $20,000, we got about $47,000 of investment.”

Through the CEIP, SHARE grants funds to local businesses to improve their storefronts. The program requires no matching funds, while providing up to $1,000 in most cases toward a project. More may be granted for larger projects.

Funds for this program and other SHARE activities come out of profits from the Oregon Jamboree, which is operated by the Sweet Home Economic Development Group. SHARE is a grassroots organization formed in cooperation with SHEDG to develop and implement economic development action.

Over the past two years, SHARE has spent about $35,000 in CEIP funds, helping fund some $140,000 in exterior improvement projects.

Among the projects this year were the Veteran’s Hall, the Sweet Home Emergency Ministries building, the CutLoose building and The New Era/Sweet Home Liquor Store building.

This year, SHARE provided a design specialist to design a color palette and provide suggestions to building owners, Hoffman said. All of the projects were completed in two or three colors.

The goal was to create a template for business and building owners to use and provide a visualization of what their buildings would look like, Hoffman said.

“This is our biggest emphasis this year, with further developments coming in the following year,” Hoffman said. SHARE is in the process of identifying 10 key properties in Sweet Home and planning to work with two willing owners to create large demonstration projects.

Those projects will be more hands-on, encouraging investment outside the original scope of the Exterior Improvement Program, Hoffman said. SHARE will be able to loan up to $2,500 for façade enhancements that go beyond paint and facelifts. They’ll include more physical improvements to the businesses.

“It’s been great working with the businesses that have been willing to invest this past year and seeing them enthused with the changes that have taken place with their buildings,” Hoffman said. He would like to see 10 to 15 businesses take advantage of the CEIP money with larger investments in 2012.

Earlier this year, SHARE conducted a business survey, each member of the Steering Committee visiting businesses to find out what they need from SHARE.

The survey indicated that businesses wanted more effective communication, Hoffman said. SHARE will use different tools to communicate better in 2012, including fliers and displays about CEIP and other programs. They’ll be distributed throughout the commercial district. SHARE also plans to create an annual report for them.

The survey is driving most of what SHARE is doing next year, Hoffman said. SHARE will build its strategies on the key findings from the survey.

From that, SHARE will expand business education in 2012, Hoffman said. SHARE will create a core of retail businesses interested in training opportunities, including one-on-one business consulting with professional consultants.

Last year, SHARE took six business owners to McMinnville to participate in a workshop with a nationally recognized consultant, Hoffman said. That drove several of them to take advantage of what they learned.

One came home and told her husband it was time to get off the fence and make changes she had been thinking about for some time, Hoffman said.

“I simply said, times are hard for everyone,” said Rita Houston, owner of Oregon Prospecting and Rita’s Relics. “What we need to do is move forward with the plans I have been toying with and give it our all.”

She came back and expanded the mining section in preparation for adding a panning booth, she said. She removed deadweight on the main floor and moved the office and checkout area.

Similar changes are planned at Periwinkle Provisions next door.

“We are going to, at the very least, identify a “microniche” product to spotlight,” said owner Brandi Hawkins. “We are also going to recreate our written advertising to reflect a powerful first sentence.”

Hoffman said other business support strategies are in the works.

“Going forward, this has started,” Hoffman said. “We became members of a business coaching firm. We’ll be doing webinars on-line and inviting merchants to attend.”

The webinars will cover several areas of retail business and, he hopes, one-on-one coaching, Hoffman said.

The CEIP and business education programs will be SHARE’s primary focus in 2012, Hoffman said. At the same time, the SHARE program and marketing committee is changing its focus from putting on events to promoting tourism and marketing.

Business owners indicated in the survey that tourism was important to their business, Hoffman said, so the committee will focus on marketing Sweet Home and its recreation.

The committee is still developing specific tasks, Hoffman said, and it will not be focused on events as it had been in the past.

“We don’t want to lose the focus of events,” Hoffman said. “We still want to keep those in reach, but we’ve got promote our recreation.”

To continue supporting events, SHARE has budgeted $5,000 for 2012 to help pay for marketing and promoting community events, Hoffman said. “I think it’s going to allow us to support these events in the community that are not administered by SHARE.”

SHARE also created a new mural in 2011, Hoffman said. The mural replaced the deteriorated mural on the Vet’s Club. A second mural, depicting a police car, is under way now.

With economic development, Hoffman is most focused on retaining businesses and finding ways for them to grow, he said. Eventually, SHARE wants to apply for a grant to create another flexible manufacturing building.

Sweet Home is shy of building space for light industrial uses, he said, and the existing flex building is full.

“Ultimately, our job as an economic development organization is to create a strong business atmosphere within the community,” Hoffman said. Part of that is tourism.

“Tourism for Sweet Home is economic development,” Hoffman said. “The Jamboree is proof of that. I really think that the direction we’re going is very viable and will show results going forward. The mix of activities, the direction, the emphases we’re beginning to develop are going to take us to see improvements over the next few years. As we begin to improve, we become more desirable to create businesses. If we retain and improve what we have here now, other businesses will come.”