Home is where the job is

Carla David peeled the backing off a wine label and stuck the decal to one of the bottles crowding her kitchen table.

She quickly worked her way through the bottles and then moved on to the next task in her busy day spent running Wild Wines, a home-based business she launched in February.

Five-gallon glass containers filled with fermenting flower, herb, berry, rose hip and ginger wines covered the floor and shelves in a small side room. An air conditioner kept the room at a cool 66 degrees, while cloth over the windows and containers protected the young wine from light.

With more glass containers on the kitchen counter and a bag of corks and a corking tool in the dining area, the operation may someday outgrow her home.

"I'm still trying to grow into my business and see how to take it to the next level," said David, who sells her wine on-line and through the Ashland Food Cooperative.

David is one of many people in Ashland running home-based businesses. Some hope to make the jump to a storefront or office, while others find working from home fits their lifestyles.

At 15.3 percent, Ashland has a high percentage of self-employed workers, with many working at home, according to the 2000 national census.

In Jackson County as a whole, 12.3 percent of workers are self-employed, while 8.9 percent of workers across Oregon fall into that category. The nation-wide figure is just 6.6 percent, the census reported.

The good quality of life in Jackson County may account for the high level of self-employed people, said Guy Tauer, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department.

"People who can run their business anywhere can choose to live here," he said. "People can work over the Internet and there is good access to airports. It really lets people decide where they want to live.

They can pick where they want their business, versus if they worked for someone else and had to live where their job was."

The city of Ashland received 111 applications for home-based business permits in 2005, and 127 applications in 2006. At the half-way point for this year at the end of June, 59 applications had come in, said Ashland Permit Center Manager Adam Hanks.

To win a permit, home-based businesses must have limited impact on surrounding neighborhoods. For example, a business can receive only three commercial deliveries a day. Up to eight clients can visit each day, but they must come one at a time. Outside storage and signs are banned, Hanks said.

A home-based business is usually indistinguishable from surrounding houses. Some operate without a permit, but city officials will likely never find out unless neighbors complain. In that case, the city will send out an inquiry letter to the suspected business, Hanks said.

That invisibility is welcomed by neighbors, but is one of the drawbacks of running a home-based business.

Mike Vischer started a Web site design and computer repair company from his house early this year.

"I did struggle," he said. "I was really having trouble getting business with the home-based business. Every bulletin board I went to to post my business card, I found three other cards from people doing the same thing. It's a saturated market. There are hundreds of people posting information."

Things picked up last month when Vischer and a partner bought Computer Drop Off, a computer recycling center in Talent. He is able to tell customers there that he does computer repair as a side business. While he shares the income from the recycling center with his partner, the profits from his repair service are his to keep &

along with the money he saves with tax write-offs for rent and other expenses.

Even before his struggles with the home-based computer business, Vischer encountered another problem.

He had planned to launch Rogue Outdoor Supply from his house and sell high-end supplies through a Web site and on eBay. But he had to drop that idea.

"Some of the brands I was interested in carrying were very concerned about protecting the brand name. They would only sell to me if I had a storefront and was able to market in a certain way," Vischer said.

For Alison Hop, a home-based editor of books and articles, having lucrative east coast clients in place before she launched Alison Hope Publications in 1993 proved crucial to her success.

She left her job as a program officer for Africa because it required frequent travel. Working for herself, she has been able to support her two children and have a flexible schedule that allows her to attend school events.

Hope said the job requires her to focus, but she can usually stop what she is doing to take care of other matters. She clocks in and out on her computer to take the guess-work out of charging clients for her time.

Building a successful home-based business takes a certain personality, she said.

"I know people who have tried it and not succeeded.

You have to be driven. You have to be persistent and not take it personally when you get turned down," she said.

Hope said one downside to working from home is the isolation. Sometimes she takes work to the coffee shop in Bloomsbury Books just to be around other people.

Through its Greeters meetings, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce helps home-based workers meet people, form networks and let others know about their products and services, said Sandra Slattery, executive director for the chamber.

Many chamber members also refer customers to each other, she said.

The chamber's Internet marketing workshops have been well-attended by owners of home-based businesses. The organization holds workshops on how to write a business plan and has a product marketing workshop scheduled for November, Slattery said.

Blair Ritchie has been making jewelry with gemstones and pearls in sterling silver and gold settings for nearly five years from home and is gradually increasing her marketing. She is planning a direct mail campaign and recently hired a Web designer to improve her Internet site.

Ritchie usually tries to do everything herself, even while juggling an outside part-time job and the home-schooling of her two children.

"It's even harder to grow your business when you work part-time and when you want to spend quality time with your children," she said.

Ritchie comes home from her job in the afternoon, does housework and helps her kids with their school work, makes dinner, corrects schoolwork and then creates jewelry after her children go to bed.

"I stay up until 11 if I'm really tired. I've been known to stay up until — or 2 in the morning if fatigue hasn't set it," she said. "'Free time' is a misnomer for me. If I have any free time, I feel like I should do this or do that."

But like many people with home-based businesses, Ritchie feels the hard work is worth it to be near her children. Lately they have been urging her to focus on her jewelry business. She reminded them that even if she were home more often, she would have to work on the jewelry and not give them her undivided attention.

"My 10-year-old said, 'It's just a comfort knowing you're home.' That felt good to essentially be given permission from my kids to really pursue this," Ritchie said.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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