This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
Bill Garyfallou believes a proposed light rail and other transportation improvements outlined in the Southwest Corridor Plan will transform Barbur Boulevard.
“The way that Barbur is developed, it truly is an old-fashioned highway,” Garyfallou said. “It’s very difficult for people to get across from one end to the other from Barbur and there's a lot of traffic that is drive-through.”
He envisions a Barbur Boulevard with sidewalks, bike lanes and busy transit hubs - a Barbur Boulevard where people can stop to connect with one another and businesses in different neighborhoods, rather than bypass it.
Several large employers welcome plans outlined in the Southwest Corridor Plan. The proposed light rail would have a stop near Oregon Health & Science University and a walkway and elevator to travel up Marquam Hill.
That’s a selling point for OHSU, whose employees traveling from the Southwest Corridor often have to take a circuitous route get to work.
“You'll pass by OHSU often times on the bus to go all the way downtown to transfer to another bus and come up the hill,” said Michael Harrison, OHSU’s director of local government and neighborhood relations.
That stop would serve the OHSU community as well as the Shriners Hospital for Children and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Nearly a fifth of OHSU’s employees lives south of Portland. Those commuting from the Southwest Corridor are more likely to drive and get stuck in traffic around the Terwilliger curves.
“Nobody does their best work if they're stuck in traffic driving,” Harrison said. “No one does their best work if they have to get up an hour earlier because they have to transfer multiple times on the bus.”
Dick Clark, The Portland Clinic’s chief executive officer, is thrilled about plans to expand the MAX light rail system into the Southwest Corridor, too. He thinks that will encourage more patients and employees to take transit to the clinics.
The clinic employs about 600 people. About 11 percent of them take transit, using company-subsidized bus passes. Clark said he knows anecdotally that many of his patients rely on transit to get to where they need to go.
Clark said the organization is intentional about where it opens clinics. “We have to be strategic and locate in areas where people are served by public transportation as well as where the apartments and higher concentrations of housing will be.”
Helping businesses thrive
The potential arrival of a new light rail line in the Southwest Corridor is poised to change the landscape for hundreds of businesses, from large institutions, to family-run businesses that have been passed down through generations, or the micro enterprises beginning to emerge.
In addition to supporting existing businesses that would benefit from light rail nearby, “Metro wants to support the growth of new businesses,” said Eryn Kehe, Metro’s spokeswoman for the Southwest Corridor project.
To move these goals forward, Metro awarded Mercy Corps Northwest a grant to offer a class to both existing and new businesses.
The class, which is already underway, is helping new entrepreneurs write their business plans, and all business owners learn how to save money.
“They save $600 and then we match that with $3,000 in grant money,” said Andrew Volkman, Mercy Corps Northwest’s director of small business development services.
Saving money will help them establish a pattern of putting money aside for future emergencies, Volkman said.
“It could be health or medical or maybe just something like a piece of equipment that breaks down," he said, "and to be able to have the resilience to survive something like that is really important. Savings is a good way to do it.”
These activities are part of a program to help small and disadvantaged businesses in the Southwest Corridor become stable.
The program is designed for business owners with limited income or from historically marginalized groups, such as women, immigrants and communities of color - groups that don’t traditionally have access to financial resources.
Volkman said Mercy Corps Northwest has been running these types of program for more than 20 years throughout the region, including Portland and Seattle.
He said business owners need a combination of education, mentorship, and grants and loans to be successful. “We've had phenomenal results from doing it this way,” Volkman said.
Mercy Corps Northwest wants to expand the network of business owners it engages through these programs. The nonprofit has met with rotary clubs and chambers of commerce in the Southwest Corridor to discuss the business community’s needs.
“This is an area with no local business association that can speak to the needs of such businesses in the Southwest Corridor,” said Jeffrey Raker, a regional planner at Metro.
Raker believes a business hub like the one Mercy Corps Northwest and other Southwest Corridor partners are attempting to build will improve communication between business owners, planners and other agencies or organizations working in the Southwest Corridor.
This work could have a lasting effect in the area regardless of whether a new light rail gets built. Eventually, it could lay the groundwork for creating a larger business association for the Southwest Corridor.
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