As COVID-19 cases rise, the pandemic continues its reign and Bend's tourist advisory discourages travel, the last thing anyone might expect from Bend's food and beverage companies is a new project. In the heat of it all comes the hyper-local trade group, Cultivate Bend.
The organization looks to vitalize Bend's reputation as a hub for food and beverage businesses. Bend's location, nearly two hours from the I-5 artery and shoved behind the beloved Cascades, provides ample reasons for distributors and manufacturers to forget about Bend as a vibrant hub for food and beverage startups.
"One of the things we're doing is looking at ways to amplify PR and marketing of brands in the region, but also of the region itself," said Micah Elconin, Executive Director of Cultivate Bend. "There's a lot of work at the state level to support food and beverage manufacturing—they recognize this is an important industry; however, often if you're not in the Portland or Salem area, you're not the first person those well-intentioned support organizations reach out to," Elconin explained.
The group's organizers believe the key to gaining statewide, and even nationwide recognition, lies in the nourishment of Bend's local businesses. "Cultivate Bend is born within the philosophy that all boats float with the rising tide," explained Paul Evers, Cultivate Bend board president and co-founder and CEO of Riff Cold Brew. "We're in our individual silos actually solving very similar problems. If we can connect the community, provide group communication and create a support structure to lean on, that would benefit all of us as individual members."
Formally known as "Food Cluster of Central Oregon," Cultivate Bend is a recent rebranding. After freshly hiring Elconin as its executive director, the group turned on the jets to open and provide resources during the pandemic. Evers commented on Elconin's vision: "We debated: Should we delay, or should we accelerate? The consensus was, we need to accelerate because the need for this organization is heightened substantially."
As Elconin explained, the business space the group operates in is still relatively stable, even amid a pandemic, since most food and beverage manufacturing companies have not been affected as hard as other companies. Manufacturers who work directly with supermarkets have been able to keep income coming in at a relatively steady pace, and balance sheets remain relatively untouched, he said.
For its inaugural event, Cultivate Bend opened with a July 30 virtual panel on money marketing, titled "Cash is Queen." Regional experts, including Maria Pearman of Perkins & Co, Jeff Baker of Craft3 and Matt Briggs of Contract CFO (formerly of Picky Bars) weighed in on topics including cash flow and staying afloat during current times.
"Were hoping to provide a peek behind the curtains for a minute," said Jennifer Moore, a board member of Cultivate Bend. "We're trying to provide very specific takeaways, and action items you could leave the call and go do." Thinking about the formation of Cultivate Bend, Moore lamented, "If only I had this when I was starting 10 years ago!"
In addition to events, paying for a membership in the organization gives members access to those with more experience in the food and beverage space.
As Moore put it, "We're trying to bridge that gap of, I failed because I didn't get the support I needed."
So far, a number of local food and beverage CEOs have come on board, including Bounce, Humm Kombucha, Red Duck Foods, JEM Organics and more. Information about membership and a free newsletter are available to the public at cultivatebend.org.