Eye on small business

Local programs focus on growing, maintaining local companies

Sofia’s Tortillas is named after Carlos and Christina Menchaca’s 2-year-old daughter whose picture was incorporated into their packaging design.

Sofia’s Tortillas is named after Carlos and Christina Menchaca’s 2-year-old daughter whose picture was incorporated into their packaging design.

When Carlos and Christina Menchaca decided to turn Carlos’ homemade tortillas into a small business, they had no clue what they were doing. Navigating the permitting process, coming up with a company name—Sofia’s Tortillas, named after their 2-year-old—packaging and pricing was all new to them, and the enormity of it was intimidating.

“It was really hard because I didn’t know where to start,” Christina said recently from her home in Gridley. So she and her husband sought help through the Butte County Business Incubator Program. As a “microbusiness”—one with five or fewer employees—located in the small community of Gridley, Sofia’s Tortillas qualified for one-on-one consulting through BCBIP. Specifically, Christina said, they needed help with packaging design.

“I wouldn’t have had the money to pay someone to design the label,” she said. “The picture of the child that you see is actually our daughter. I was extremely happy with the outcome.”

Sofia’s Tortillas is one of 10 small businesses currently enrolled in BCBIP, according to Jennifer Macarthy, the county’s economic and community development manager. During the Board of Supervisors’ regular meeting Tuesday (Aug. 9), Macarthy presented the company’s label design as an example of the help BCBIP offers. She was giving a status report on the county’s regional economic development strategy, which has been so far successful, she said.

“Butte County is really known for some of those small businesses that grew up here and have continued to grow and expand,” she said by phone after the meeting. “They have a lot of potential, and we want to retain them and help them grow.”

To date, since BCBIP’s implementation in 2002, it’s helped more than 50 local businesses. It’s funded through a state community development block grant, so businesses must apply and qualify but pay no fees for the services. Macarthy pointed to a recent success story in Brannen Gourmet, a small company in the unincorporated area near Paradise that specializes in sauces.

“We offered them a variety of services including branding, marketing and social media,” Macarthy said. “And they were able to get their product into local Safeway stores. That’s an example of our consultants working with them to help them break into the local market. We also provided some co-branding opportunities with Sierra Nevada—they make a barbecue sauce co-branded with Sierra Nevada. That relationship was implemented through that program.”

BCBIP is just one element of the county’s economic development strategy. Macarthy’s presentation to the supervisors also included a rundown of workshops for local businesses that were well-attended. One targeted to crafters offered tips for running successful Etsy shops. “We have a huge artisan community here,” Macarthy said. “We filled all spaces [for that workshop], plus there was a waiting list.”

Another notable program the county offers local businesses is the Alliance for Workforce Development, which provided services—including staffing and employee training—to 979 local businesses between July 2015 and June 2016, Macarthy said.

Looking to the future, she said, the county has met with and continues to meet with businesses considering relocating to the area. One big development on the horizon, Macarthy said, is the Whisper Ridge Golf Resort, which is expected to break ground this month near Lake Oroville.

“That’s a really exciting project for the county,” she said by phone. “It has the potential to change the face of the economy in the greater Oroville area.”