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MONROE — With a population of 636, the community of Monroe doesn’t have the resources to hire a full-time economic development director.

But thanks to a coalition of eight small communities in Benton and Linn counties — united by the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network — a new full-time venture catalyst will soon be hired to identify and find financial support for budding entrepreneurs in the mid-valley.

The project is being funded by a $70,000 grant from Business Oregon, plus $20,000 in matching funds from the communities.

“On behalf of the eight cities, I want to express my gratitude to Business Oregon and the Rural Opportunities Initiative selection committee for choosing Linn-Benton as one of the funding recipients,” said Rick Hohnbaum, the city administrator in Monroe. “We invested a lot of time and spirit in the application process and it was very rewarding to find that they agreed and want to support our vision of a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Also participating are Brownsville, Halsey, Lebanon, Harrisburg and Sweet Home in Linn County and Adair Village and Philomath in Benton County. With a population of 16,600, Lebanon is the largest community in the group. Monroe is the smallest.

Lebanon City Administrator Gary Marks said that by banding together, the eight communities impressed folks at Business Oregon.

“We applied for $50,000 and Business Oregon folks were so impressed they awarded us $70,000,” Marks said. “The state was impressed with our application and said they had never seen cities come together like this. They really want us to succeed.”

There were 41 grant applications statewide; just 11 received funding.

Marks said the goal is to identify “budding entrepreneurs, businesses or product ideas and then figure out how to get financing and funding to get those businesses going in these communities.”

Marks said he’s excited about the project, “because for a long time I have felt that while we make many efforts to recruit existing businesses to our communities, we actually already have a lot of talent right here and we should grow it right under our own feet. We need to help local people realize their visions for businesses and products.”

There an advantage to having several smaller businesses start up and flourish rather than attract one large business, Marks said.

“If that large business closes, many jobs are lost at one time,” Marks said.

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The eight participating communities have a combined population of fewer than 40,000 residents. 

According to Caroline Cummings, RAIN interim executive director, the venture catalyst will “connect regional entrepreneurs with strategic resources for launching and scaling business ventures, including mentor connections, educational and training programs and access to capital.”

A full description of position expectations and job application can be found at http://goo.gl/Gv1GQz. Applications are due by May 25.

The position will pay $6,250 to $7,500 per month. It is a 12-month contracted position.

RAIN is a nonprofit organization in Lane, Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties.

It was founded by the Oregon Regional Solutions network and was funded by the Legislature to advance the formation of high-growth startup companies in the four counties.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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