Pohlad grant assistance available to small businesses

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Financial assistance is available to help small businesses see their way through the current economic downturn and be poised for recovery, thanks to grant money from the Pohlad Family Foundation administered through the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and local chambers of commerce. The foundation, headquartered in Minneapolis, has pledged $5 million to assist small businesses. The grants and low-interest loans will be distributed in partnership with Grow Minnesota!, the Chamber’s statewide private-sector initiative aimed at retaining and creating jobs. Local businesses must apply through the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, which participates in the Grow Minnesota! program.

Small businesses will have access to grants to retain their employees while planning for and adjusting to their futures. Access to short-term, low-interest working capital and capital improvement loans also will be available to help continue operations and finance improvements consistent with a company’s growth plans.

The business assistance is part of $20 million pledged by the Pohlad Family Foundation to help Minnesotans affected by the economic downturn. The remaining grants are directed toward improving neighborhoods hardest hit by the housing crisis and retaining nonprofit services.

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“As a family, we want to do our part to help businesses and Minnesotans struggling during this economic crisis,” said Jim Pohlad, director of the Pohlad Family Foundation.

“The Minnesota Chamber came to mind as a partner early on,” said Marina Lyon, Pohlad Foundation director, “because we know it to be effective and creative in its work. And Grow Minnesota!’s firsthand knowledge of thousands of small, privately-owned businesses made it a logical partner to manage this initiative and distribute these funds.”

Grow Minnesota! has a primary focus to retain Minnesota businesses and to encourage them to expand in the state. It also is an opportunity to thank companies for doing business in Minnesota.

Visits are carried out by staff and volunteers from the Minnesota Chamber and its local chamber partners. Volunteers annually carry on conversations with about 800 businesses of all sizes and types across the state.

“We welcome the partnership with the Pohlad Family Foundation,” said Bill Blazar, who directs Grow Minnesota! as the Minnesota Chamber’s senior vice president of public affairs and business development.

“These grants and loans blend perfectly with our mission to make it easier for businesses to stay and grow in our state.”

Businesses need not be a Minnesota Chamber or local chamber member to receive a visit and any follow-up assistance through Grow Minnesota!. In similar vein, any small business will be eligible to apply for a Pohlad Family Foundation grant or loan – provided its local chamber of commerce is a current Grow Minnesota! partner. At present, the program operates in partnership with 44 local chambers of commerce, including Austin, and reaches businesses in more than 50 communities.

Applying for the grants

Businesses must apply to their local chamber of commerce, and each partner community in turn can initially recommend four applications for funding. A committee of small business owners will assist the Minnesota Chamber in deciding whether to award the money.

The money will be administered through the Minnesota Chamber Foundation/Grow Minnesota!. A total of at least $5 million will be distributed – 60 percent for job retention or growth planning and 40 percent for loans. The amount could grow to $7 million based if a separate $1 million matching grant from the Pohlad Foundation is earned due to support from other foundations and individuals. Eligible small businesses must be privately held, have fewer than 50 employees and generate annual sales of $10 million or less.

“We appreciate the generosity of the Pohlad family,” said Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce. “We take our role seriously, and are proud advocates of the GrowMinnesota! program. We want to ensure this money not only preserves local jobs, but also helps our local businesses get ready to grow.”

The Minnesota Chamber is the state’s largest business advocacy organization with 2,400 members representing approximately half a million employees.

About 45 percent of its members are in Greater Minnesota, and 80 percent of the overall membership has 100 or fewer employees.

The Austin Area Chamber represents 400 area businesses and organizations.

Businesses seeking additional information on the grants may contact Forstner at the Chamber, 437-4561, or stop by the Chamber office in Austin, 329 North Main St.