“There is an on-going struggle between local-born and raised independent businesses and the bigger chains,” explains Adrienne Fritze, owner of two local small businesses Conundrum House and RemarkableArts LLC. “We vie for the same customers locally, but local ventures are financed and regulated locally. Micro- and small businesses often do not have deep pockets, let alone political & regulatory clout. For local entrepreneurs, figuring out HOW to compete, and win local business, is at the heart for the existence of organizations like the Corvallis Independent Business Committee (CIBC) and the Downtown Corvallis Association (DCA).”
Therefore, there’s a new Committee in town, and Fritze is the chair.
The CIBC is a group of independent business owners who are also members of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce. Their mission is: “To recognize the importance of independently owned businesses as they contribute to a diverse, healthy and stable local economy. To provide advocacy, support, and education. Support a culture of involvement and entrepreneurship. Create opportunities for participation across the spectrum of entrepreneurs, business owners and established independent businesses.”
The predecessor to the CIBC was the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA), a 501(c) nonprofit organization that launched in 2002 to help small businesses not just compete against bigger chains, but to thrive in Corvallis through mutual support. After the CIBA dissolved in 2019, key members met with several other business organizations. Simon Date, President & CEO of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, agreed to take on supporting small businesses more directly, and they formed the CIBC.
Triumphing Over Goliath
Fritze says these organizations are important.
“It is about representation and having an influential voice in what happens in our business world, on a local basis,” she said. “It’s mega difficult to start and grow a company locally. We need to ensure we have local influence that supports growing a small biz — in areas such as financing, politics, permitting and zoning.”
But for every David taking a stand in our town, there are several Goliaths waiting in the wings.
“An additional layer of the strain,” said Fritze, “is the seemingly overwhelming influence larger regional and national companies have over locally-grown companies. They have the cashflow to get business loans that are often out of reach for the small guys. The bigger the company, the more able to hire more experienced and highly trained employees as well as the ability to compete better in getting attention from the government.”
She says it creates an equity imbalance when small businesses become underrepresented to financial institutions and governments. The answer in Corvallis is for the independent businesses to organize. By grouping together, the businesses in Corvallis can maintain the small town atmosphere that gives residents and visitors the best shopping experience possible and makes Corvallis a great place to live.
It Takes a Village
The pandemic has hit many hard — and small businesses, if they survived, are still struggling. When many are feeling challenged to just survive, taking time to participate in an organization may seem arduous.
Fritze allows that, like the DCA, “CIBC needs to have the people-resources to engage on two fronts. First – to pull together the volunteers to run the organizations and do the work of promotions and advocacy. Secondly – to engage outside financial and regulatory groups that run how we do our micro-businesses. Growing the CIBC becomes critical in the void that currently exists.”
In order to attend CIBC meetings, you need to belong to the Chamber or receive an invitation. There are currently between 13-15 members on the committee, and Date says it could handle up to 36. A recent change, reflecting the issues brought on by the pandemic and looking for ways to make Chamber membership more affordable, is that members may now pay monthly. That turns the $250 annual lump sum of the Classic Level into $21.99 installments.
Besides the regular Chamber of Commerce benefits, CIBC members focus on the issues that impact them as well as a supportive network. Educational workshops are being mapped out. During recent meetings people in the committee helped one another with their website and directory listings. Date is planning a dedicated web page on the Chamber site to launch by Spring just for this committee where you’ll find board members, their mission statement, and how other Corvallis independent businesses can join.
Buy Local First
As a consumer, you’ll see their efforts in the Buy Local First campaigns held year-round. Per the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition (CSC), which has close ties with the CIBC, shopping locally offers buyers the benefit of money staying in the community. Additionally, shoppers can develop relationships with business owners. With the price of gas and all the supply chain issues, local businesses can help you be a part of a sustainable community.
Date is exuberant about the CIBC, saying “We are really excited to have a group specifically dedicated to representing small, local businesses. This committee strikes at the heart of what we are trying to do, and will help us shape policy and direction moving forward.”