With some help from an innovative grant program offered locally, an Elgin hairdresser is hanging up her shears and going into business for herself.
ON HER WAY: Jessica Fitts, owner of Errand Angels delivery service, plans to expand her business with matching funds from the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District’s Individual Development Account program. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Jessica Fitts is the proud owner of Errand Angels, a delivery and errand service covering all of Union County.
She’s got some big plans for the future, and the Individual Development Account program offered through the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District will help her reach her goals.
“I want to offer a delivery service in every rural area in Oregon,” she said.
Fitts moved to Northeast Oregon from western Washington a year ago. She works part-time at Foley Station restaurant in La Grande, and until recently she was a beautician at the Perfect Look salon in Island City.
She’s wanted to be an independent businesswoman for a long time. Last year, with help from Eastern Oregon University’s Small Business Development Center, she started laying out plans for her dream child, Errand Angels.
“I worked on the business plan with (SBDC Director) Greg Smith for about four months. When it was time for the financing piece, he referred me to the IDA program,” she said.
As defined by the NEOEDD, an Individual Development Account is a special savings account designed to help people of modest finances save money. Money saved is matched at a three-to-one ratio.
The savings and the match can be used to to start or expand a business, pay for post-secondary education and training, or pay for equipment or training a person might need to obtain a job or business.
“The program really is a great way to fight poverty,” said NEOEDD Executive Director Lisa Dawson.
Fitts has been thinking big from the beginning. As she worked with the SBDC, she began to envision a service offering businesses and individuals a “personal on-call employee” to take care of grocery shopping, transport pets, deliver courier documents, pick up prescriptions, deliver restaurant meals and plenty more.
She decided she would include membership packages in which customers would have that employee at their disposal for a set number of hours. Package pricing would vary according to services offered.
Fitts’ preparation for all that didn’t end with SBDC consultations. As an IDA applicant, she was required to attend business planning and peer consulting classes, and to complete a course in financial literacy.
She also applied for some grant funding from Mercy Corps Northwest, a non-profit organization that assists low-income entrepreneurs with starting or expanding a small business or self-employment.
The organization helped her with her start-up costs, including purchase of a vehicle she will use for deliveries.
In the meantime, she started contributing to her IDA. By the end of six months, she will have saved $1,665, meaning she will receive $5,000.
For now, she runs her Errand Angels throughout Union County, but she’s got her sights set on a much bigger operation. In six months she hopes to hire a manager and pick up other markets.
Her IDA is a key, she said.
“I’m going to use that to expand,” she said.
Dawson said the IDA program is supported by the state and federal governments, and funded through donations from individuals and corporations. Tax credits are offered in return for the donations.
Since announcing the IDA program late last year, NEOEDD has approved 16 grant applications, with six more pending.
Tax credit availability was increased from $6 million last year to $8 million this year. Dawson said she is glad to program is seeing that kind of support.
“I think it’s a fabulous opportunity to give people a boost, either for education or starting a business. It’s a really great thing.”
For more information about the IDA program, call the NEOEDD at 541-426-3598.
For more information about Errand Angels, reach Fitts at 541-561-0345.