Emily Adair
The La Grande Observer

Lisa Dawson, executive director of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, believes entrepreneurs are the “driving force” that makes economic development possible.

That’s also the reasoning behind NEOEDD’s efforts to establish collaborative centers for entrepreneurs — efforts that were recently boosted by a $10,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.

Dawson said the NEOEDD is working in partnership with Business Oregon’s rural initiative to establish a collaborative center in La Grande similar to the center recently opened in Baker City.

“A lot of people don’t know what services we offer unless they call us up,” Dawson said. “And even when they know what we have to offer, we’re out here in Enterprise. We’re hoping to create a place for people to know, ‘Oh, that’s where I go for this.’”

The collaborative centers are designed so entrepreneurs can gather in one place. They could also be used to bring resources to a community.

“There could be counseling where people can meet one on one with a tech assistant, as well as classes or programs that can be offered remotely,” Dawson said. “Those types of programs could be made available to an individual or a team of entrepreneurs.”

According to the NEOEDD, the center is not a new project or program. The center, called Jumping Sheet, is simply a place to unify and make available resources that already exist.

The City of La Grande, Eastern Oregon University and La Grande Main Street Downtown will work with NEOEDD to make this possible, according to NEOEDD.

Jumping Sheet, which will share space in La Grande’s historic firehouse, is named for the tool used to catch people jumping from a burning building.

“Our name honors the history of our location, while recognizing that being an entrepreneur is not easy,” according to an NEOEDD document that outlines Jumping Sheet. “Everyone needs support at some point.”

Dawson said she thinks a collaborative center like Jumping Sheet will help entrepreneurs beyond the resources it presents.

“Making a center like that visible to the public will help spread awareness in the community of what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “People will be more aware and more supportive of local entrepreneurs.”

Grant funds will be used to develop a business plan for Jumping Sheet and assess the potential demand for a center in Enterprise.

“We are very curious if there are home-based businesses or people planning to start a new business who would be interested in renting private or shared office space,” Dawson said.

Dawson encourages interested business owners and entrepreneurs to call her at 541-426-3958.

She said the $10,000 OCF grant awarded in November will go a long way to help.

“That money will go toward mostly the personnel costs, but we’ll still have construction costs and other costs we’ll have to consider,” Dawson said.

Dawson couldn’t give an initial estimate of the total Jumping Sheet costs, because the center is still in the early planning stages.

NEOEDD wasn’t the only local organization to receive a fall grant from the OCF. The North Powder School District’s grant, also for $10,000, will help chip away at the expenses of ongoing construction.

NPSD is building a new welding and metal fabrication lab. The 1,800-square-foot space will be used for agriculture, FFA and CTE programs.

OCF’s press release notes the space may also be used for community events, trainings and community
college classes.

Powder Valley High School agricultural sciences teacher Seth Bingham, who wrote the application for the OCF grant, told The Observer in October that his students were eager to use the space.

Bingham could not be reached for additional comments for this story.

NPSD and NEOEDD are just two of 14 recipients in Central and Eastern Oregon that were awarded a total of $237,500 in grants.

Among those are three in Baker County: Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre ($11,000), Hatch Lab ($10,000) and Powder Basin Watershed Council ($5,000).

Contact Emily Adair at 541-786-4235 or eadair@lagrandeobserver.com . Follow Emily on Twitter @goNEoregon.