City Council Ways & Means Committee gets update from SBDC

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    The Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee heard from Christine Anderson of the Small Business Development Center and Mitchell Berg of the University of Minnesota Crookston Veden Center at a special meeting this week. The visit was spurred by recent conversations surrounding the 2022 budget and money previously allocated to the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) that was then given to the SBDC.

    The City Council approved a resolution in 2017 paving the way for the opening of the SBDC in Crookston in 2018 and provided funding for the first two years with CHEDA allocating money to the program in 2019 and 2020.

    The program is now seeking funds as part of the cost share with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation for it to continue to be housed in Crookston. Currently, the Small Business Administration (SBA) contributes 50% towards the program, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) contributes 25% and the remaining 25% comes from the NW MN Foundation, University of Minnesota Crookston, East Grand Forks Economic Development Authority, and CHEDA if they choose to continue. It was also noted that the SBDC’s office space at Valley Technology Park has been provided and covered by CHEDA as part of the partnership.

    Anderson said the program is willing to accept any denomination, but told the committee that East Grand Forks had already committed to $10,000 for 2022. She added later that she will continue to serve northwest Minnesota whether a business or city chooses to contribute or not.

    When asked by Ward 6 council member Dylane Klatt, Anderson also said she could later provide a break-down of how many businesses she assisted in Crookston compared to other cities.

    “For the money that we have invested in SBDC for the past years do you think Crookston is getting the bang for their buck?” asked Mayor Dale Stainbrook.

    “I think you are just because I know the clients I talk to every week and some every day,” Anderson answered.

    “Having Christine here with the SBDC in town is very valuable,” added Berg, who later touched on the structure of the Veden Center and the SBDC’s role with the university.  

PRESENTATION

    Anderson, who grew up in International Falls and was the previous Economic Development director for Pennington County in Thief River Falls before becoming the SBDC’s specialist/consultant, told the committee that the program’s services include assisting small businesses with financial resources, marketing, production, legal organization, engineering and technical problem and feasibility studies. They also make special efforts to “reach minority members of social and economically disadvantaged groups such as veterans, women and the disabled,” said one of the slides in Anderson’s presentation.

    “In 2020, the SBDC (in Crookston for Polk County) served 60 clients, how we quantify that is if I talk to them for more than five hours; we accessed over $2 million, $2,239,000 (in capital) and the sales revenue that we were able to create or save was just under $10 million ($9,906,250) that’s huge for this area,” Anderson explained. “January to July, in 2021, we have over 32 clients, accessed over $775,000 in capital ($775,663) and we’ve saved or created over $3.6 million ($3,606,250) in sales.”

    “The types of businesses that I have worked with and I continue to work with, I just gave you a list because I’m under NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with all of my clients and I’m not allowed to tell you who they are unless they choose to come forward,” she added later. “Restaurants/cafes, grocery stores, manufacturing, lawn care, technology, hair salons, child care, property management companies and they were hit hard when the moratoriums came on; home builders, professional service people, food trucks, gym, retail, veteran owned businesses, new businesses which believe it or not COVID has brought on a whole new group of people who want to start their own business and sometimes it’s crazy on how many people want to sign up and we’re working on so many business plans at once, it’s amazing. People who have purchased existing businesses, we’ve had a lot of businesses change hands and some of them we know about and some we don’t on the back side. And the bad one is the businesses that had to close. Those were the hard ones, we did everything we could to help them and it just didn’t work.”  

    A student engagement pilot program is also in the works for the 2021-2022 school year where the SBDC would work with UMN Crookston and MN DEED to create an internship/externship program that would connect students and recent graduates with the SBDC clients and small businesses. Additionally, the SBA “officially” approved the ability of SBDC programs to begin marketing their services and until this time the only way was “word of mouth.”

    Anderson provided the committee with a testimonial from a business owner who worked with her and the SBDC, and highlighted upcoming trainings and events scheduled for Crookston, East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls which include “Starting a Business in MN”, “Starting a Business While Working FT”, “Starting a Food Truck Business”, and “Starting a Home Business for Seniors.”

    “At the end of the day, my job is to support my small businesses,” Anderson added at the end of her discussion with the committee. “And I say ‘mine’ because I get to know them that personally and when they hurt I hurt and when they succeed I feel like I succeed.”

    For more information about the SBDC, Anderson can be reached at 218-281-8318.

Christine Anderson gives a presentation to the City Council Ways & Means Committee September 20