Taking a page from job-training nonprofits like Janus Youth and Goodwill Industries, Portland’s Community Cycling Center is preparing to create a new enterprise that supports its mission of making bikes more accessible.
It’s considering a fee-for-service job training operation that would give underprivileged Portlanders a ladder into Portland’s rapidly expanding universe of bike mechanics, builders and component manufacturers.
“The bicycle industry is not a diversified industry, and we believe that it should be,” said Anne Lee, operations director for the 19-year-old nonprofit. “We’re trying to create access in a new way. … It’s not just access to being able to ride a bicycle, but it’s access to the bicycle industry and the jobs that are there.”
The new business model is still on the drawing board — it’s not clear who’d pay whom for what, or how much. The next milestone is an Oct. 25 conversation with local industry leaders. But Lee said there’s been enough interest from early conversations for the CCC to announce the new project in a recent blog post on its site.
For example, Lee described a business model that might include the CCC entering into bike-building contracts with other local shops, to smooth the seasonality of their workforces.
“Bike shops generally will lay people off in the winter,” she said. “And they need to at some point build up the bikes they’re going to sell next year. So if we could provide some opportunities that would let us build bikes for them, then they would be able to sell more, so they would be able to have more hands during their high season.”
The Community Cycling Center dedicates more than half its budget to community programs like the “create a commuter” bike education classes and the awesome bike skills park it helped create in North Portland’s New Columbia development. But the CCC is probably best known in Portland for its break-even bike shop on NE Alberta at 17th, one of the best places in town to buy a decent refurbished bicycle.
“CCC has always been in the job creation business; It’s part of what we do,” Lee said. “So this is really an extension of our general business model.”
Lee took care to note that CCC isn’t setting out to compete with operations like the United Bicycle Institute, the Portland-based bike mechanics’ school. If anything, she said, “we would be a starting program for people to move on to UBI.”
Portland’s bike industry represents tens of millions of dollars in the region. The most complete assessment, back in 2006, estimated its value at $63 million.
If enough local companies express interest in one or several of the CCC’s concepts, the nonprofit hopes to pursue grants and donations that could finance the new program’s startup as soon as 2014. Charitable, foundation and government support might continue to be part of the picture, but in general — as with its bike shop — the CCC sees this venture as self-financing.
“Every business has a gap; they buy something from somewhere,” Lee said. The CCC’s new venture, like any other, is an attempt to fill gaps its leaders see in the marketplace. “We’re trying to make that match with what we do well.”
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.