Florence: Breaking the Beach Town Mold

Coast

Florence, Oregon is most commonly known for dunes, a charming downtown area, and its thriving retirement community. While this is standard fare for many Oregon beach towns, the members of the Florence community, its city manager, and a recent arrival to the town knew this vacation destination could offer more. This month, our feature piece tells the story of two people and a great company working in concert to make Florence more than just a small beach town.

The organization spurring growth in Florence is the Regional Accelerated Innovation Network (RAIN). Founded two years ago, RAIN serves entrepreneurs in Oregon’s Southern Willamette Valley and Mid-Coast by helping them turn ideas into high impact, innovative, traded-sector companies that can grow and thrive locally. It has accelerator programs in both Corvallis and Eugene. These twelve-week programs work with entrepreneurs during the growth stage of their companies. Utilizing the ‘Angel Investor’ model, RAIN connects entrepreneurs with affluent members of the community to help fund their start-up costs. This model keeps costs within the community and allows community members to invest in local businesses. 

While it is conventional wisdom that local business growth is important, a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation confirms this belief. The study found that new firms and businesses under five years old are responsible for nearly all new jobs in our country. Early projections for RAIN in Florence include thirty startups selected and put in the pre-accelerator program. Out of that, RAIN anticipates between four and eight fully-fledged companies, which will create thirty jobs in the first year alone. 
 

The key to RAIN’s success is connecting with entrepreneurs who are on the cusp of launching their business. Caroline Cummings, venture catalyst at RAIN, works to find prospective entrepreneurs who would benefit most from the RAIN program. A veteran of the tech industry and an entrepreneur herself, Caroline is eminently qualified to understand the needs of up-and-coming business owners. Her experience fundraising and developing partnerships throughout a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits has helped build the outreach model in Florence. “Our goal is to find what we have in Florence and build on what’s there,” Caroline says. Getting connected with the community leaders and local government is key. That’s where Florence’s city manager, Erin Reynolds, steps in.
 

Erin heard the director of RAIN, Jim Coonan, speak at a conference and wanted Florence to become part of their program. What intrigued Erin more than the program itself was the way RAIN gets the community involved. Instead of using a traditional ‘Push’ model (knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods), RAIN uses a ‘Pull’ model. This entails promoting pub meetups, using flyers and connecting with grassroots organizers to attract entrepreneurs in small business, trade and public sectors. 
 

“At our first pub meet-up, I didn’t know half of the people there. That’s really exciting for us,” Erin said. Drawing out members of the community who normally wouldn’t come to Chamber of Commerce meetings and Greeters is a big part of RAIN’s success in Florence. “I love seeing people who wouldn’t typically talk to each other sharing like-minded ideas and passions,” said Erin. The kickoff party hosted ninety community members and once again the crowd was a diverse one. Erin was delighted to meet many attendees who had not yet gone to their first networking meeting. 
 

RAIN now has momentum in Florence and the goal, as always, is creating jobs. That’s what makes RAIN: breaking down barriers for people starting their own businesses, growing human capital and strengthening the economy.
 

Erin identifies “boots on the ground” as Florence’s primary need to keep the momentum going. The City of Florence applied for a grant to hire a venture catalyst of their own to serve the coast. With Caroline Cummings assigned to Eugene, RAIN and the City of Florence are dedicated to providing growth opportunities to communities all along the Oregon coast. Florence pledged $30,000 to the cause and Lane County Community and Economic Development pledged $50,000. 
 

“Ultimately,” says Erin, “This is about job creation and sustainability for living wage jobs here in Florence.”

Would you like to be part of the movement that is changing the face of Florence? Attend our upcoming events: 

Summer Social for Entrepreneurs on Wednesday, August 3rd, 5:30 p.m. RSVP

State of the Florence Startup Ecosystem on Wednesday, October 5th 5:30 p.m. RSVP

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