Celebrating the nation’s small businesses

Published 8:12 am Monday, April 30, 2018

By Tim Penny

President and CEO Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

The Small Business Administration (SBA) celebrates America’s small business owners during National Small Business Week, April 29 through May 5.

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According to SBA’s 2017 Small Business Profile, there are 509,732 small businesses in Minnesota, comprising 99.5 percent of Minnesota businesses. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) we are honored to have the opportunity to work with these entrepreneurs across our 20-county region on a regular basis.

Small businesses are an important element in community vitality, especially when it comes to the future of small towns. Many entrepreneurs across the region have taken advantage of SMIF’s various loan opportunities to help with start-ups and expansions. Last year we invested in 30 businesses – from Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield and Chabelita’s Yummy Foods and Fruits in Le Sueur, to Living Greens Farm in Faribault and Bluff Country Co-op in Winona.

One of our recent investments is Cabin Coffee in Plainview. Cabin Coffee is an upscale coffee house offering fresh-roasted coffee, sandwiches and outdoors seating. For a smaller community this type of addition can be a cornerstone of community vitality.

Another recent loan client is Grandma’s Gourmets of Albert Lea. The owner, Kim Olson, has been very involved in the FEAST! Local Food Network, a partnership between SMIF and Renewing the Countryside, and is now expanding her gourmet food business to focus more on wholesale operations. It is always amazing to see entrepreneurs put their creative ideas and energy into action.

In addition to offering loans, SMIF provides a variety of programming and trainings to support small business owners. Our Quality Child Care Program (QCCP) training is one of the ways we are working to address the child care shortage. During this two-hour training, child care providers focus on enhancing both quality care and their business skills. Many of our QCCP participants go on to become Parent Aware-rated, which means they are more likely to stay in business. This is critical for our small towns as the lack of child care slots creates difficulty for working parents. More child care providers means a stronger economy overall. We currently offer 10 QCCP trainings throughout the year – the next round will be held this fall in Rochester, Mankato, Winthrop, Lake City and Owatonna.

Our Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) program is a new initiative which is specifically tailored to support entrepreneurial growth in small towns. There are six communities participating in this pilot program: Blue Earth (Faribault County), Lake City (Wabasha County), Lanesboro and Spring Valley (Fillmore County), Le Sueur (Le Sueur County), and Spring Grove (Houston County). The Blue Earth REV community is currently developing resources to assist with succession planning so retiring business owners can transition to new ownership instead of closing.

Other REV communities are performing asset-based community mapping in order to better understand the current needs and resources of entrepreneurs. I look forward to seeing each community develop their own entrepreneurial ecosystem over the next few years.

Supporting minority and immigrant entrepreneurs is another key ingredient to seeing our small towns thrive in the future which is why we are actively seeking entrepreneurs to join our next Prosperity Initiative cohort. This program provides education and business resources to 10 minority business owners through one-on-one business coaching and peer networking. Contact Chad Poitra (chadp@smifoundation.org) for more information.

Small businesses truly are the lifeblood of our southern Minnesota economy, but they are more than that. They are the fabric of our communities and can be critical for small town growth. We are humbled to be in a position of supporting innovative, creative and diverse entrepreneurs across our region.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.