Want to start a business? Help is available

Thanks to their location on the border of the metro area and greater Minnesota, Norwood Young America residents with an interest in starting their own business have access to a pair of helpful programs based out of both regions.

Anyone with an innovative idea or entrepreneurial plan can contact either the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) based out of Hutchinson, or take part in the Open to Business program offered by the Carver County Community Development Agency in partnership with the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD).

Encouraging and aiding entrepreneurial activity is one of the best things small cities can do to promote commercial growth, according to NYA’s Economic Development Coordinator Christie Rock.

“Entrepreneurship should be an important component of any community’s economic development plan; however, it is particularly critical for a small town,” she said. “The best way to foster economic growth in a small community is to find ways to support local people who have a business idea, but are unsure of how to get it off the ground.

“That is why the Norwood Young America Economic Development Commission has partnered with the Southwest Initiative Foundation in Hutchinson and the Open to Business program in Minneapolis. Both offer educational and financial resources to help entrepreneurs determine whether they have a feasible business idea; and, if they do, provide start-up funds to help them bet the business up and running.”

Up until two years ago, SWIF had focused mainly on the rural southwestern area of the state, but Rock contacted the organization with a request to serve the local area and SWIF obliged by expanding its service region. In the early stages a representative actually came to NYA on a monthly basis to help with entrepreneurial education and small business counseling, and that service is still available on an on-call basis.

SWIF also has a website, www.mncore.com, that includes an educational webcast on how to start a business, various business tools and programs, marketing and financing help, and networking opportunities for area entrepreneurs. In addition to education, SWIF can also help potential entrepreneurs with financing.

“One of the other things they have is the micro-enterprise loan program. That is, if someone has a really good small business idea and they just need some help getting it off the ground — but they don’t qualify for traditional bank financing or enough financing to buy all their inventory, or they need some working capital to pay employees or buy equipment — then the foundation has that resource available,” said Rock.

According to Kurt Thompson of SWIF, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by programs like SWIF or Open to Business leads to measurable results.

“There are statistics out there that show that starting a business is tough. If you get support as you launch your new business or start thinking about it, you’re 40 percent more likely to actually start that venture. If you do start it, then you’re 20 percent more likely to be successful at it,” he said.

Thompson said that SWIF has seen an increase in the number of clients it serves since the economic downturn began. Entrepreneurship, he said, has allowed workers who may have been laid off from their previous jobs to take matters into their own hands.

“It’s interesting, as we’ve gone through this time period from early 2009 up until today, much more of our initial contacts, people showing interest in our programs, have been displaced,” he said. “During the height of the recession about 30 percent of the people we served were displaced workers, people that couldn’t find traditional jobs so they were looking to self-employment to create opportunity.”

Just as individuals have turned to private enterprise to make a living, Rock said that encouraging the start up of private businesses is also in the interest of cities as a whole.

“We really need to look for new and creative ways to grow jobs here, and I don’t think we can just rely on 100-employee companies moving here,” she said. “I think we need to look at ways to help cultivate opportunities within the community, as opposed to putting all of our eggs into chasing a business. I think our best shot is to figure out a way to cultivate the talent we have.”

Like SWIF, the MCCD’s Open to Business program provides counseling to current and prospective entrepreneurs, helps identify challenges and opportunities through the formation of a business plan, can provide loans to help get operations started, and more.     Through cooperation with the county’s Community Development Agency (CDA), MCCD personnel are available for meetings at the CDA offices in Chaska every Wednesday, and by appointment.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Open to Business opportunities can see the program website at www.mccd.nonprofitoffice.com.

“In this down economy, the best opportunity that a small community has to grow its economy is looking internally. Many new jobs in a community come from local business or entrepreneurs, as opposed to an outside company that might move in,” said Rock. “We just really want to get the word out about these resources. Hopefully it can help somebody in town who has a really good idea but just needs some help to get started.”

• For up-to-date information and items of interest for local businesses, see the NYA Economic Development page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NorwoodYoungAmericaEconomicDevelopment.