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Collaborative approach can help more businesses in south-central MN, bill supporters say

In its first three months of operation, the China House Café in Truman created 15 jobs – ranging from high school-aged dishwashers to experienced cooks preparing breakfasts, lunches, and dinners from Chinese and American menus.

The cafe serves a “critical” role in the community, and was able to get started because of its support, via a collaboration of many local and regional organizations, said Bryan Stading, executive director of the Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation.

HF2151, sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), would appropriate $150,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 and again in Fiscal Year 2021 in grant funds to support entrepreneur and small business development at the center.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division held the bill over, as amended, Tuesday for possible inclusion in the division omnibus report.

A companion, SF2293, awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) is the Senate sponsor.

The center serves a nine-county area in south-central Minnesota, centering on Mankato and Blue Earth County.

“We tend to focus more on the rural areas … more Main Street,” where resources can be hard to come by, Stading said.

Many of the businesses the center works with are related to agriculture, but no one who comes to the center for help gets turned away.

The organization doesn’t have specific criteria that must be met, and doesn’t require prospective entrepreneurs to have a business plan prepared before they start looking for help. For the most part, these entrepreneurs really are just starting with an idea, and the center helps them to shape that into a reality, Stading said.

Between 2014 and 2018, the center served 373 entrepreneurs and businesses, 196 of whom were women, veterans, or minorities. Through this work, the center stabilized or expanded 80 businesses, and helped to create 59 new businesses.

Assistance services can range from help with succession planning, to the payment of overhead or start-up costs, to bringing in an “implant CFO” who can provide the oversight needed to turn around existing businesses and save jobs, Stading said.

A 100 percent non-state match would be required to disperse the funds, and funds could be rolled over into the second year. Matching funds would likely come from counties or other community partners, he said.

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