Entrepreneurs are helping to bolster economy

Published 8:15 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

It appears there’s an uptick in small business creation here in Minnesota, according to data compiled by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recently. His office has seen a big spike in new business filings that translates into a 15 percent increase from 2008 to 2009.

The State’s small business data reflect what we’re seeing here at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). Demand for our small business loans has ramped up significantly. During the past 12 months we’ve provided over $284,000 in small loans to 11 entrepreneurs. This compares with $100,000 to five entrepreneurs the previous year. And there doesn’t appear to be a slowdown in sight.

SMIF is well positioned to meet this increasing demand. This year we received $950,000 in funding from the Small Business Administration through the federal stimulus package. The good thing about the SBA funding is that a portion is earmarked for technical assistance support.

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Ask any business expert and they’ll tell you that without lots of technical help, most entrepreneurs have trouble staying in business for any length of time. Our SBA funding allows SMIF to provide advice and counsel to our new loan clients.

Often we meet with clients monthly at their business to help them with their accounting, inventory control, marketing or other function. We also sponsor trainings and workshops for new and existing entrepreneurs. One of these is the Core Four Business Planning Course. A recent Core Four graduate remarked, “The training gave me a better overall picture of how to plan and grow my business — especially the financial planning aspects.”

While it’s great to see an increase in the number of entrepreneurs who open new businesses, we also applaud entrepreneurs like Larry Erickson who are creating new jobs. His small business — Auscon — just received a second small business loan from us to expand inventory to meet growing customer demands. He also plans to double his workforce to 20 employees within the coming year.

Erickson credits his success as an electronic manufacturing services provider to flexibility, quick response time and high quality standards. He noted, “Our total sales at Auscon now stand at $3.5 million (since 1995). I believe the Foundation’s financial and technical support made a big difference during a critical time in our growth.”

SMIF has been an SBA lender for the past 10 years, providing more than 100 entrepreneurs with over $2 million in micro loans. These businesses represent a big part of our economic fiber and a significant part of our efforts to build economic vitality here in southern Minnesota.

In addition, SMIF is now partnering with SCORE — the premier, free business counseling and advice service in the U.S. This means that help is available for local entrepreneurs and small business owners in Owatonna.

We’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in a small business loan or in teaming up with a SCORE volunteer. Contact Marica Haley at our office either via e-mail: marciah@smifoundation.org or telephone 507-455-3215. You can also get more information on our website — www.smifoundation.org, click on “entrepreneurs.”

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which provides grants, loans, technical expertise and partnerships for the emerging workforce and new businesses, especially in the areas of bio-medical, bio-agriculture and alternative energy.