Entrepreneurs Drive La Grande’s Growth through Community over Competition
28 Nov 2023
As an entrepreneur, wife and mother of two young girls, Kimberly Voelz wasn’t sure the time was right to turn her winemaking abilities into an actual business. However, the support displayed by the La Grande, OR, community changed her opinion.
“I am so encouraged by the number of people in La Grande who are very excited to assist new businesses get their footing, each with their own skill set that they gladly offer to provide,” she said. “This is not something you would see in the Willamette Valley or California.”
La Grande is a small community in northeastern Oregon that has dedicated itself to growth based on its residents’ talents. Area entities like the La Grande Economic Development, La Grande Main Street Downtown, Northeast Oregon Economic Development District and Eastern Oregon SBDC all offer assistance and guidance to entrepreneurs. Recently, La Grande has seen many female entrepreneurs making great strides in the community.
Right place, right time
Voelz has been making wine since 2005. Upon graduation from Oregon State University, she traveled to Australia and New Zealand to continue to learn the craft. After gaining experience in the California wine industry and working for two of the largest wine producers in the US, Voelz moved to La Grande, where her husband's family has been farming for 100 years. Voelz immediately started making wines with grapes from northeastern Oregon. In 2023, K Voelz Wines began commercial sales at the local farmers market. Timothy Bishop with La Grande Economic Development contacted her about the city’s plan for redevelopment along the Jefferson Avenue corridor in Downtown La Grande, suggesting a location there may be perfect for her business.
“We toured the former Napa Auto Parts building that my husband remembers visiting growing up,” said Voelz. “When we saw the large, open back storage area lined with timber that looks like a huge barrel storage room, we thought this could work.”
They closed on the building in August, and K Voelz Wines found its home. Voelz gets most of her grapes from vineyards near Baker City, farmed by her mentor and fellow OSU alum, Travis Cook, owner of Copper Belt Winery. They crush the grapes and complete the production there until the new building is ready. They have planted grapes on their own land, eager to make from what they grow in the future.
Beyond the wine production, Voelz and her husband are focusing on demolition, cleaning, painting, flooring and more to prepare for the grand opening of a tasting room in the spring of 2024, with full winery production by August. In the meantime, Voelz is locally offering her Cabin Red, a red blend, Hunter’s Widow, a white blend and LeBet, a Rose’ generating enough sales to help fund the building renovations.
“It feels like going into business in La Grande now is a case of being in the right place at the right time,” said Voelz. “The opportunity presented sooner than we planned, but the City has been extremely supportive in introducing us to the downtown area.”
Dr. Lorraine’s Adventure Salves is a line of skin recovery bars for outdoors persons made from all-natural formulas, including wildcrafted herbs, beeswax, oils and more. Dr. Lorriane Ferron started her business as a “side hustle” in 2018 but quickly saw progress through the farmers markets she attended. Specifically, the La Grande Farmers Market is especially helpful to entrepreneurs.
“There is a very conscious decision by the organizers to keep vendor fees low because they see the market as an important business incubator for the community,” said Dr. Lorraine. “It is a low-cost, efficient way for a person to test out their idea to see what kind of interest it generates or what changes might be helpful.”
Beyond the farmers market, Dr. Lorraine said that La Grande’s business community and individual residents support local entrepreneurial efforts.
“Nonprofits like Arts Center East and numerous retailers will sell my products, which is a boost I could never express enough gratitude for,” she said. “When it comes to supporting each other, La Grande just gets it.”
That realization goes for organizations like the City of La Grande Economic Development and the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District as well, said Dr. Lorriane.
“They helped me apply for the Individual Development Account program, which helped me achieve the funding to streamline my productivity to the point where I no longer fear large production orders,” she said. “But even the application process for the grant was beneficial, as I had to take a business class to qualify, where I learned the importance of how to write a business plan.”
Dr. Lorraine is honored to be part of a burgeoning female entrepreneur community in La Grande.
“There are so many women here I admire who have excellent ideas, doing outstanding work with thoughtful, socially responsible businesses,” she said. “And they are all very dedicated to building relationships with others to help this small community be successful.”
Community over competition
Aguileras Amazing Aromas is the mother/daughter entrepreneurial effort of Christle and Allie Aguilera located in the Marketplace Underground. Business has been so good that they have ventured out of their brick-and-mortar location to farmers markets and festivals in Oregon and Washington. Not forgetting their local beginnings, they hold special events like a candle-making event on December 9 with the coffee shop in the same building.
The pair indicate the tremendous support of the local community as a considerable factor in their success, patronizing their store or at their events. Bishop routinely checks in to see if they need assistance, and the Women in Business event by La Grande Main Street Downtown helps bring many female entrepreneurs together.
“The main point for all of us female entrepreneurs is “community over competition” and to promote each other in any way possible,” said Christle. “While we all want to grow and get bigger, we know there is room for all of us to do that.”
The City of La Grande Economic Development is here to support small businesses and entrepreneurs with a range of services, resources and expertise to help them along the path to success. Please call (541) 962-1307 or email us with any questions about assistance today!