The Chang Tuh facility expansion on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

When the pandemic first sent many businesses into a shutdown, Annie Gorski was getting dozens of calls and emails each week.

Gorski, the city of Salem’s economic development manager, said businesses knew they could contact her for help because of relationships she helped build starting in 2016.

Then, the city’s Urban Development Department formalized its outreach to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees with the awareness that the majority of the job growth was at that level.

“I think that’s been one of the best things we’ve done for economic development in our program,” she said.

Strengthening that program is one of the goals in the city’s recently released Economic Development Strategy and Covid recovery plan.

That plan will guide how the city’s Urban Development Department helps businesses recover from the pandemic and face corresponding challenges like supply chain issues and worker shortages in the next three to five years.

PLAN LINK

“We know many of our businesses are still struggling,” Gorski said. 

Gorski has worked at the city since 2007 and became the economic development manager in 2016. Her role was created to help implement the Economic Development Strategy last updated in 2011.

At the start of the pandemic, Gorski’s department created an email list with 450 businesses, where they could send out Covid grant notices or provide opportunities for one-on-one support.

Businesses were telling Gorski they needed access to high-quality broadband, help paying for fixed costs due to revenue loss and help finding workers.

Gorski said one of the focus areas of the plan is to ensure the city’s economic development programs are addressing the needs of underserved communities.

She said national data shows that women, Black and Indigenous people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacts by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

One of the recommendations in the plan include working with the Latino Business Alliance to learn more about Latino businesses looking for assistance in growing their business.

Another is to conduct an audit of the economic development and urban renewal programs through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens.

She said the city asked for demographic information from its Covid grant recipients, but that information was voluntary and not everyone filled it out, meaning they don’t have good data on the demographics of who was receiving the funding.

Gorski said she started working on the plan at the start of the year.

She said the city’s focus last year was getting out Covid grants to businesses.

“We were running those programs ourselves,” she said. “We were offering a lot of technical assistance.”

She said the city is starting conversations with employers to determine if a public-private partnership around childcare would ease some of the worker shortages, like one currently in place in Yamhill County.

The new year also brought fresh insights into the struggles businesses would face, such as struggling to hire workers or find needed materials.

Gorski said she wants to conduct outreach to understand why people might not be aware of certain city programs available to them.

That also includes improving the department’s website to make it more user friendly. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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