Tortilla maker plans to expand

July 13, 2017 | GET MORE : Entrepreneurship

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U.S. Bank customer La Morenita Tortilleria wins SBA award as family-owned business of the year.

You could say they were pressed for space. 

Due to demand in the Pacific Northwest for their fresh tortillas, Miguel Diaz Jr. and his family bought a small site near their tortilla factory in Woodburn, Oregon that can be used as a warehouse and eventually as a place to expand manufacturing.  

Things have been going well for the small business which was founded by Miguel's father, Miguel Diaz Sr. in 1994, 15 years after the family had immigrated to the United States from Mexico.

Forty-nine percent of Oregon business owners plan to invest in capital expenditures in 2017, according to U.S. Bank's eighth annual Small Business Survey, which solicits feedback from small businesses in U.S. Bank's market to better understand their current challenges. That compares to 40 percent of respondents across the 25-state footprint of U.S. Bank who said they plan to expand. 

La Morenita Tortilleria distributes tortillas from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Portland District Office recently honored La Morenita Tortilleria as the 2017 Family-Owned Business of the Year, based on the company's "steady growth trajectory."

In 2016, La Morenita bought three small lots in the rural Portland area where it plans to eventually build a larger warehouse. It refinanced its two buildings that are about 9,000 square feet total. To facilitate the expansion and refinancing deals, U.S. Bank provided La Morenita with two loans that were backed by the SBA. 

U.S. Bank completed 260 loans worth $61.2 million in fiscal 2016 in Oregon, ranking it number 1 out of more than 80 SBA lenders in the state, according to the Portland District SBA office. 

Trust is the cornerstone of U.S. Bank's relationships with small business owners in Oregon. Miguel Jr. said he has a strong relationship with Joseph Cowles, a U.S. Bank SBA business development officer, who worked on the real estate loans and said that’s what helped cement the new investments.

The relationship flourished, in part because both men speak Spanish, Cowles said.

"The language has been a big key. We connected right away," Cowles said. "I speak Spanish with customers whenever I can. It helps build trust."

Transparency and ethical behavior are two of the top three most important qualities small business customers like La Morenita Tortilleria are looking from their business banker, according to the Small Business Survey.

Cowles, who said he gained an appreciation for Latin culture through his personal travels, said he grabs lunch at La Morenita’s whenever he drives through Woodburn. 

The visits help him become closer with members of the family too, including Miguel's brothers Gilberto and Guillermo. Their father, Miguel Sr., founded the company in the same name and image of one he owned in Mexico before moving to the United States. Half of the 20-employees at the company are members of the family. 

Miguel Jr. is optimistic that his company, and its brand, will continue to benefit from being a local-supplier within the strong Pacific Northwest economy. 

"All of our customers are stable and business is pretty good," he said. 

Sam Black is a member of U.S. Bank’s public affairs and communications team.