“I thought 2020 was going to bring me everything I wanted, instead 2020 made me appreciate everything I had.“

––Best Instagram post of 2020

Like you, I spent way too much time online this year. Between news headlines screaming out daily disasters, to tips on baking a better cheesecake, to learning how to turn off the audio while the dog is barking during a Zoom call, this year we have all learned skills we didn’t know we would need. And so we come to the close of 2020 a little wiser, a little tougher, and a lot more grateful for surviving.

I came to West Company in early 2017 after years in the tech sector, living in a global digital reality that knew no boundaries between life and work. When I made the switch to the nonprofit world, I wanted nothing more than to work in the community in which I lived. West Company (now known as West Business Development Center) has, for over 30 years, served the Mendocino County business community and it is that legacy of years of service that found us equipped to meet the pandemic-caused crisis faced by our rural economy. This year, I am proud to say our staff served over 700 individuals with business counseling advice. With patience, and sometimes tears, we were able to help entrepreneurs forge a path to survive the devastating impact of the COVID economy. More than 1,500 people attended our webinars to seek help on everything: from cash management to e-commerce, and from starting a food truck business to emergency preparation. We have provided technical assistance to 82 applicants who secured $4 million dollars in federal loans. To meet the community’s demand for assistance, our staff grew to 10 employees and 15 specialty contract advisors, each dedicated to helping our clients’ emotional, financial, and technical needs. At times, and in the face of so many challenges, the work was overwhelming and we thought we may not have enough emotional fortitude to get through, but then our clients would speak and their achievements and determination to survive gave us the support we needed to move forward.

We are proud to close out this year knowing we have given back over $1 million to the Mendocino County economy. How does this break down? More than 98% of the services and vendors we hire are local and our staff and advisers live, shop, and pay taxes in the community they serve. Through the kindness and perseverance of The Community Foundation of Mendocino County and the County of Mendocino, West Center was able to distribute $700,000 in grants to 142 entrepreneurs in our small business community. Early in the pandemic we created a self-certification program that provides health risk mitigation workplans to businesses so they can safely reopen. The issue of economic development is of prime importance: to that end, we continued our work with the County to develop MOVE 2030, a 10-year economic resiliency plan.  The work on this plan brought together a broad range of individuals and organizations across the County to take part in meaningful collaborations that will effect change with the goal of a better and more stable future for all.

By no means are we doing this work alone. Organizations like the local chambers of commerce working on MaskUp Mendo and mobile testing units help keep us strong and safe. Nonprofits such as North Coast Opportunities work tirelessly in the background supporting our food supplies, housing the homeless, and providing immediate relief during disasters. It is a testament to Mendocino County how much our nonprofits support our local community. They are essential contributors to our economy. 

Since March, the simultaneous crisis of public health and economic instability has been the national dialogue. We must thank our local county and cities government leaders who have been working together to find a path forward during a time when directives shift daily. When I think about all the people I have worked with in 2020 I am reminded of this saying, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.â€

Our thanks go to the West Center Board of Directors, which provided a steady guide as we navigated the stormy waters of this year. And our work could not be done without the funds we have received from the Small Business Development Center and the Women’s Business Center, which are agencies of the U.S. Small Business Administration. In addition, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the philanthropic arm of Wells Fargo have also contributed the funding it takes to provide our services at no cost to you, our small business community.

But our greatest appreciation goes to the countless intrepid local entrepreneurs––the men and women who have risen up to meet this year in ways they never thought possible. They are talented, resourceful, and determined to succeed. We encourage each of you to acknowledge their fortitude for it is their presence in our community that makes it vibrant. So, in parting, I encourage you all to proudly buy local in every way you can so that in 2021 we may again see those smiles we sorely miss.

Stay Healthy, Stay Safe, Stay Strong