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'Here for Portland' hits milestone with 100th worker connected to small business

'Here for Portland' is a city-backed nonprofit that uses federal funding to help small businesses hire new staff and recover from the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Charlie's Deli in Portland's Old Town neighborhood has a new employee working inside the northwest 5th Avenue shop. Her name is Deborah Mustard.

"I only live a few blocks away, so it's really close and it's worked out really well. I enjoy it, it was a career change for me," Mustard said.

Mustard admits she doesn't have much food experience, having last worked in the restaurant industry nearly 40 years ago. But she was looking for a change of pace from her previous job as a travel agent.

"A lot less stress, better worklife balance for me. I don't take my job home with me and I have great coworkers," she said.

Mustard's career change stands out because she wasn't hired by the restaurant's owner; instead, she was a temporary placement by the city-backed campaign Here For Portland, which began in 2021.

Mustard is among the nonprofit's 100 employees that currently are or were being paid to work at a small business using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Here For Portland pays the worker's salary for up to 300 hours, which at full-time is more than 7 weeks of work.    

"It's significant when you look at the bottom dollar amount of what's earned per employee," said Charles Mattouk, managing partner of Charlie's Deli."It's about a $7,000 commitment through the city, through these federal dollars, to us per each employee."

Each eligible business can tap into the pool of available employees twice.

"With a max of two, that's significant, almost $15,000 worth of money that we're funneling through the city with federal dollars that are really helping us," Mattouk said.

Once the 300 hours are used up, the business can choose to hire the employee. Charlie's Deli hired Mustard, and it's been a win-win for both.

"Just to have someone that is a fan join our team, what else could you ask for?" Mattouk said.

Over the holidays, Here for Portland handed out $50 gift cards that were redeemable at local small businesses using the Kuto app, which is run by another Portland small business.

Here For Portland also placed Portland State University students with temporary jobs at local small businesses, with up to 300 hours of work.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler said the city is looking at ways to find more funding to continue the program.

"I think this is a really good thing for the buck, particularly given that the recovery of our business districts and our central city is our top priority," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the city is looking to expand the program to other business districts throughout Portland. The nonprofit said it has enough federal funding to place another 100 workers through 2024.

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