Providing a safety net

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

After the Camp Fire ignited, Chicostart knew it had to open its doors as soon as possible, says Director Wendy Porter. Whether it was to offer a space in which to connect with one another or to wifi, transition their phone lines or get some work done amid the chaos, entrepreneurs found they could turn to the business incubator to regroup. Now, Chicostart—which provides shared office and meeting space at City Hall—has joined a task force to tackle one of the most important post-fire jobs: ensuring the economic vitality of the Ridge. Businesses seeking assistance can go to or for resources. Earlier this week, Porter and Chicostart Operations Manager Timothy Sharkey sat down with the CN&R to discuss their efforts.

How many Ridge businesses are at ChicoStart right now?

Sharkey: It’s about 15 different businesses currently that are in here out of the Paradise [area]. We have a construction company, a phone answering service, accountants, environmental services … an attorney.

Porter: And we have a handful of software programmers, tech professionals that work remotely for companies in the Bay Area.

What is the task force about?

Porter: That business task force has been critical for our collaboration and to kind of help it go smoothly. It started out a little bit more small, where it was just the Chico Chamber, Paradise Chamber, Chicostart, the county and the [Chico State Center for Economic Development] and 3CORE. And then … when the [U.S. Small Business Administration] got here, we pulled their representatives in, and the city’s.

Sharkey: Salesforce … donated 50 [software] licenses [for all the different agencies] to put together a CRM, customer relationship management. So we put them into the system and that’s where we can make the referrals. [Initially], we’re targeting all the businesses that were service-based—grocery stores, hardware stores, anything that can help support the crews that are going to be up there for the next five, 10 years.

Porter: The businesses that would support the rebuilding.

Sharkey: We have a list of 40 different businesses that were looking for help. We also have a list of at least 40 different facilities and different businesses that have offered up either separate offices, work stations, extra space at their facilities. So now that we’re full, it’s kind of trying to match these.

What’s your role going to be moving forward?

Porter: The unknown is, how long is this going to take? We don’t know. We would hope that we would be able to save a business that—they’re so distraught over losing their business, over losing their home—they want to leave the area. But [there’s] this community that we’ve kind of put around these victims, saying, “Hey, there’s a community of support here. We want to try to get you back on your feet, that’s the goal.”