3.33 CF Small Biz

The pungent smell of success

Ex-teacher hopes to cash in on aromatic Oregon myrtle


The Small Business Development Center is helping Sue Powrie turn the aroma of Oregon myrtle into a business.

Thinking about starting a business? Listen to Sue Powrie’s advice:

“Reach out to the community’s resources that will show you how to find your dream,” she said. “And one of those resources is the Small Business Development Center.”

Powrie’s own dream is to distill and sell the oil of Oregon myrtle trees, which grow abundantly on her 92-acre ranch outside Myrtle Point. She’s pursuing that dream with the help of the small business center’s “What’s Your Plan?” program, which provides classes, online planning tools and one-on-one guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Every business needs some kind of a plan to be successful,” said Arlene Soto, the center’s director.

Helping entrepreneurs plan their success is the mission of Soto and her colleague Mary Loiselle. As an arm of Southwestern Oregon Community College, the center offers free mentoring and a menu of low-cost education programs to nourish entrepreneurial ambitions.

The two-month “What’s Your Plan?” program is a popular item on that menu, drawing 40 participants last year. Each participant paid just $125 for the service – a bargain that can continue this year thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

“Small business – local business – is the key to a successful community,” said Rachele Lyon, the Tribe’s fund administrator. “The SBDC makes that possible for so many.”

Powrie sought the center’s help after a medical issue ended her teaching career in Myrtle Point’s public schools. At 63, she is using her unemployment benefits as a bridge to what she hopes will be a lucrative business.

Myrtle oil available today typically comes from the Mediterranean region. It retails online at anywhere from $8 per ounce to $30 per ounce.

The oil’s advocates tout it variously as a deodorant, an antiseptic, a “nerve tonic,” and an aid to urinary and digestive health. Though Oregon myrtle (umbellularia californica) is not the same plant as Mediterranean myrtle, its aromatic oil has its own list of medicinal, culinary and household uses.

Powrie makes no promises about her product’s beneficial properties, and she doesn’t need to. With little interest in the grind of retail selling, she instead is targeting businesses that package and distribute essential oils.  Soap and candle makers are another potential market. Attracting consumers will be their task, not Powrie’s.

Powrie explains her distillation system for extracting Oregon myrtle oil.

Raw materials are not an obstacle. Clipping clusters of low-hanging leaves doesn’t destroy the trees, and an hour of snipping yields enough foliage for a batch of oil. She says her own ranch and several neighboring properties give her access to “endless” fodder for her distillery. She hopes to wholesale distilled oil for as much as $500 a quart.

Before launching her business, Powrie undertook a painstaking process of research and business training. She’s enthusiastic about the insights she has gathered from the Small Business Development Center’s staff. Classes at the center exposed her to fellow entrepreneurs – people working in diverse fields, but tackling similar issues.

“There’s a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps, because we’re all doing the same thing,” she said. “It’s so encouraging.”

Her ultimate goal is not merely to support herself, but to provide jobs and mentoring for her former students as they come of age in Myrtle Point. She hopes her business can provide some “quality sustainable employment” in her hometown.

If Powrie can realize that dream, the small business center and the Coquille Tribe will share proudly in her success.

About the Small Business Development Center

Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Small Business Development Center is part of a statewide network that supports and promotes Oregon’s small businesses. Last year the center chalked up these impact numbers:

  • 172 clients counseled
  • 50 training events with 365 attendees
  • 9 new businesses launched
  • 41 jobs created
  • 24 jobs retained

To Learn More

  • Details about SBDC are online at www.socc.edu/sbdc.
  • Contact Director Arlene Soto at (541) 756-6445 or asoto@socc.edu.
  • Contact Counselor & Instructor Mary Loiselle at (541) 756-6866 or mloiselle@socc.edu.

This article appeared in The World newspaper in Coos Bay in February 2017.