New small business plan offers hope in the small print


The Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development (SEED) program put forth Tuesday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty contains some proposals that could prove useful to rural Minnesota and the entrepreneurs who might start businesses there.

The plan calls for $20 million in new state spending through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and $50 million in new bonding authority to help businesses and cities with redevelopment and infrastructure. More important, the plan proposes an Office of Entrepreneurship in DEED that would make it easier for people to find the information they need to start a business and to help communities plan for development. Minnesota has a wealth of public, private and nonprofit resources to help people launch businesses and reinvent their communities, but they lack coordination and ease of access for the average entrepreneur.

A high priority for such an office would be to coordinate business education services in rural areas. For instance, University of Minnesota research and extension programs are separate from small business training services in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, which are supported by DEED and federal agencies.

The governor said Tuesday that DEED will update its web sites to speed entrepreneurs toward important services, helping them navigate the institutional maze that now exists.

Unfortunately, SEED also would extend JOBZ tax breaks for itinerant factories and other businesses that might be coaxed into expansion plans. The 2008 Minnesota Legislature will undoubtedly take a hard look at JOBZ’s tax giveaways and increased public debt under the guise of economic development.

But fine print in the SEED proposal offers hope that economic development planning and services will be expanded in rural communities. The plan calls for making modest state business loan funds available to the Minnesota Initiative Foundations and creating a revolving state micro-loan program for new and expanding rural businesses.

Minnesota 2020 will closely watch the efforts next year of the Legislature and the governor to help small business.