The Wallowa County Business Facilitation program received a huge vote of confidence this week when a $114,000 two-year rural business enterprise grant was received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

"Your program is a model for all of Oregon," said Don Hollis of Pendleton, USDA rural business cooperative specialist, during a presentation ceremony Monday morning during a Wallowa County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Accepting the grant document from Hollis was Bill Phinney, chairman of the Business Facilitation board of directors, who thanked the commissioners for their ongoing support and noted that the backing of the entire county has made the program so successful.

Among others on hand for the presentation was Myron Kirkpatrick, the business facilitator who gives free advice to anyone who seeks his services through the Business Facilitation program. He admitted that when he was first hired four and a half years ago, he thought the program would probably last only a couple of years before the money ran out.

"I obviously think it's worthwhile," Kirkpatrick said. "It's certainly the most fun job I've ever had, to help create and build some jobs and businesses in Wallowa County. It's personally very rewarding."

Phinney said that, to date, the program, which was founded in 1999, has assisted 426 clients, who have opened, acquired or expanded over 65 businesses in Wallowa County. In the process, 103 new jobs have been added and nearly 400 jobs have been affected at businesses using the WCBF's program services.

Business types range from agriculture and ranching to manufacturing, construction, nonprofit organizations, and various service industries, among others.

The three Wallowa County commissioners all praised the program. Commissioner Dan DeBoie noted that part of Business Facilitation's success is when a client decides not to open a business, because of the business plan process.

Hollis said that it is a measure of how much Wallowa County's program is respected that out of $281,000 of grant money available, it received over half of that total. "It's a great program," he said.

The grant will assist WCBF in covering program operating expenses during 2005 and 2006. Receiving the grant culminates a nine-month long process of grant application and is the largest grant received by the Wallowa County Business Facilitation program to date.

The WCBF received a previous $72,900 USDA grant in 2000 and 2001 to start up the business facilitation program in Wallowa County and provide funding for some ongoing expenses.

Financial support for the nonprofit Wallowa County Business Facilitation Program is through local contributions by private citizens, local businesses, city and county government, as well as through foundations and state and federal programs.

According to Hollis, this grant was made possible to a large degree because of of continued local financial support. Contributors he mentioned particularly were Northeast Oregon Alliance, Pacific Power and Sterling Savings Bank.

The Wallowa County Business Facilitation Program will still need to raise additional matching funds to cover continuing operating expenses.

Business Facilitation began in 1999 as a local effort to assist Wallowa County citizens in creating new businesses and jobs within Wallowa County. It has grown into a non-profit organization with widespread community support.

As facilitator, Kirkpatrick provides free and confidential business advice and assistance to anyone with the passion to start up, acquire or improve the operation of a business in Wallowa County.

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