PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon saw a record number of new businesses register in 2021, bringing the state’s total number of businesses above 500,000 for the first time ever, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office of Small Business Assistance. 

In total, 88,083 new businesses registered in the state in 2021, a 15% increase over the number that registered in 2020. Trevor Leahy, small business ombudsman with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, said the jump isn’t due to few business applications in 2020, because even that year, there was a 2.2% increase over 2019. 

“We were surprised at that data that people were continuing to register new businesses and start new businesses throughout the pandemic,” Leahy said. 

He said his office was also surprised the number of Oregon businesses that closed in 2021 was not as substantial as they expected. While the state doesn’t have exact numbers of how many businesses closed or did not renew their registration, Leahy said his office helped with fewer than 100 closures. 

Between seeing more businesses register to open and a smaller number than expected closing, Leahy said his office is feeling optimistic about the direction Oregon business is going. 

March of 2021 was a particularly good month for new business registration. The Oregon Secretary of State’s report for that month shows there were 9,126 new businesses registered in March. Leahy said he doesn’t know exactly what drove people to start new businesses that month, but he and his team have some speculations. They believe it could have been influenced by federal programs that were available at the time, the COVID-19 vaccine becoming more widely available, or the fact that it was the last month before taxes were due. 

He said these numbers include all sorts of Oregon businesses: corporations, limited liability companies and assumed business names. However, his office does not keep track of the specific type of businesses opening. There’s an optional field people can complete, but it’s not a requirement for people to state what type of business they’re starting. 

“You could put in that field that you were starting an ostrich farm, and no one would call you out on it and you wouldn’t be required to operate an ostrich farm,” Leahy joked. 

He also said the office does not keep track of whether the businesses are leasing or owning the property they operate on or what percentage of people are first-time business owners. 

The Secretary of State’s Office is considering asking for more demographic data from people at the point of registration, but currently does not ask business owners what their race or ethnicity is. 

KOIN 6 News asked Leahy where in the state most businesses were opening, but he said the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office does not have data readily available that show where in the state the businesses are. He said they would need to collect the zip codes for every application and compile the data. 

What he did say is that he expects registrations will keep increasing in 2022. He said his office has already responded to about 400 phone calls and emails in January, which he sees as a good sign. He’s also anticipating a slight surge when the indoor mask mandate is lifted in Oregon by March 31.  

“People will come out of this wanting to expand. Businesses still need more employees and I am hoping that things will continue to thrive in Oregon,” he said. 

The Office of Small Business Assistance is staffed with people ready to take phone calls and answer questions for business owners. Leahy said if he and his team don’t have the answer, they can point people in the right direction. He encourages small business owners to contact them with any questions about what resources are available.