(Small Business Development Center Business Advisor and Latino Community Outreach Specialist Jose Balcazar Teaches a General Contractor Test Preparation Class in Spanish at COCC | Photo courtesy of COCC)
Outreach Assistance Targets Underserved Rural Areas of Central Oregon
New funding has expanded community college-backed outreach assistance for a growing segment of budding and existing Latino/a business owners in rural areas of Central Oregon.
The Central Oregon Community College (COCC) Foundation recently received a Latino-focused grant from the U.S. Bank Foundation that will help COCC’s Small Business Development Center better assist local entrepreneurs.
The effort is being led by bilingual SBDC Business Advisor Jose Balcazar, who specializes in business planning, operations and Spanish advising for minority operators.
The proposed funding of $10,000 per year would continue to increase the operational capacity of COCC’S SBDC Latino-specific advising, primarily located in Redmond, La Pine, Madras and Prineville.
These more rural areas are the most under-served in COCC’s district and include the highest proportion of low-income individuals and are the most ethnically diverse areas of Central Oregon, with a high number of Latino/a residents.
The funding will enable the organization to engage approximately 20 or more additional Latino small business clients in a 12-month period through extending the hours of Balcazar, sponsoring Latino events that would improve awareness of SBDC services and continuing to design and build curriculum for courses that will be targeted for the Latino population.
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at COCC focuses on enhancing Central Oregon’s economic interests with a mission to deliver expert business advice and education to help existing and future business owners grow and succeed.
An experienced team provides pro-bono guidance and advising in all aspects of funding and developing small business, plus advisers and instructors offer practical courses and workshops to help business owners make informed business decisions and prosper.
Such advisers work to minimize risk for aspiring entrepreneurs by helping clients write comprehensive business plans, conduct financial forecasts, strategize marketing tactics, apply for funding and improve operations.
Balcazar, who is described by colleagues as, “A strong advocate for small business owners, especially related to the food industry, with a big heart for the Spanish-speaking community” said, “Even though most Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in Central Oregon are, by necessity, able to go about their business in English, it is still a great benefit to be able to discuss important issues and concerns in your native language.
“Having owned and operated my own restaurant, I’m also well positioned to help our clients with the particular challenges that can arise in the food-service industry.”
Balcazar owned restaurants for more than 20 years and often works with clients who want to start food-related businesses. He also serves as the SBDC’s Veteran liaison, drawing from his own experience in the U.S. Army.
Born in Mexico City, he knew by the age of 16 that he had a passion for computer programming and design, so he attended a technical school where he said he learned the ‘first era of computers.’
Balcazar came to the United States at the age of 18 and graduated from Hermiston High School. He later enlisted in the Army and was awarded the Distinguished Honor Graduate Award, several Certificates of Achievement, the Military Excellence Award and the Army Achievement Medal.
He went on to own several businesses and raise his two children in Central Oregon. His longest business was a successful Mexican restaurant that he owned and operated in Bend for more than 17 years. “I have been working for COCC’s Small Business Development Center now for 13 years,” Balcazar said. “In rural areas it is harder for people to access resources and information, and for minorities, it is even harder as there are fewer CPA’s and so forth or accessibility to information.
“Trust is an issue for different ethnic communities, and sometimes it is hard from a cultural perspective to ask for help rather than trying to do everything yourself. We teach people not just how better to manage their business or regarding training, but also how to access resources and work on changing the mindset of going it alone.
“The additional funding allows us to bring more resources and training opportunities to rural areas and to minorities that previously might not have received support.
“We also have grant funding for programs for early childhood entrepreneurship including through classes in Spanish to help people navigate through the licensing process.
“I also teach classes regarding preparing for the general contractor license test, how to manage businesses, understanding pricing models and other training.
“We have seen an increase in clients lately for childcare-related business which helps support the rest of the economy. There is also a lot of interest in the trend with food trucks locally and I have helped several people understand business models in that area.
“The additional funding allows offering more services and training opportunities, and more time to be allocated for potential clients.
“We can guide and connect support resources together and sometimes collaborate with other agencies such as the Rural Development Initiative (RDI) and city administrations etc.
“I work all through Central Oregon but with focus on rural areas for outreach, including startups, how to manage business, understanding financials and getting loans.”
Alex Vega, owner of Remarkable Construction and Remodeling in Bend, paid tribute to the value of Balcazar and SBDC’s assistance in helping launch his business. “Jose has been a great support, not only in teaching classes but being available any time to answer questions about operating the business,” he said. “He helped with understanding the necessary steps and gave advice all without cost. He helped to understand financials and connected resources and it has been a great experience. It feels good to own your own business and be your own boss.
“In the fall we are also starting our third cohort, and second in Spanish, to help childcare through the licensing and registry process, as there is a significant need in that area,” Balcazar added.
The innovative childcare business training program at COCC’s SBDC is being operated through a partnership with the nonprofit Neighbor Impact and funding from the city of Bend and Deschutes County, all aimed at addressing a lack of childcare in the region.
Of the Early Child Education Business Accelerator’s cohorts, SBD Director Ken Betschart said, “Our goal is to establish 30 new Oregon registered or certified home‐based childcare businesses and create 250 new childcare slots in Central Oregon.
“Previously, our region was only able to accommodate one child care opening for every three children under five, and this accelerator training program is taking a huge step to meet that need.”
The city of Bend and Deschutes County have each committed $125,000 in grant support, with additional support coming from the city of Sisters and the Oregon Small Business Development Network.
“The curriculum supports growing a high-quality, licensed program, taught by Neighbor Impact, with business topics covered by SBDC instructors,” added Karen Prow, director of child care resources at NeighborImpact.
Students are assigned an SBDC business adviser and licensed graduates receive a minimum of $5,000 to start their business, as well as continued wraparound services from both Neighbor Impact and the SBDC after the program.
The training is intended for new child care businesses planning to open as well as recently established providers who require expanded business skills and state licensure.
The additional cohorts include the classes in Spanish and COCC has recently taken other steps to address childcare needs in Central Oregon, including being awarded a four-year, $242,700 U.S. Department of Education grant that will provide funding to alleviate childcare costs for low-income students.
The funds will also help launch the Bend-based Little Kits Early Learning & Child Care Center at Oregon State University – Cascades, envisioned as a year-round program with an integrated teacher-training component for education students.
“We are continually expanding training programs based on feedback from the communities,” Balcazar added. “Right now, one thing we are offering is how to prepare yourself for a downturn during difficult times. During the pandemic, organizations noted that many minorities did not get access to the full benefits available as they may not have a clear understanding or be ready to show losses in real-time, rather than relying on historic tax returns.
“Now we can start to help businesses understand everything needed just in case information needs to be produced swiftly.”
Balcazar operates out of COCC branch offices but mostly is out in the field visiting with clients and said there is a vibrant and growing sector of Latino business ownership.
As well as his outreach work, he is also involved with the innovative new veterans benefit program at the COCC Small Business Development Center — the first of its kind in the state of Oregon —which enables eligible vets and service members to enroll in educational programming using GI Bill assistance.
Approved by the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, this benefit certification opens doors of opportunity for veterans throughout Central Oregon, funding access to non-credit business classes, entrepreneurial workshops and an immersive Small Business Management Program.
From condensed digital marketing courses to upper-management decision-making training, the non-credit education options covered by the GI Bill are helping put ideas into action.