Program links, aids businesses

FAIRMONT – Grow Minnesota! is a statewide effort that’s coming to Fairmont this month.

Local leaders recently gathered to learn the ins and outs of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s business retention and assistance program.

“There are 550 businesses in our database, just in Fairmont, so there are a lot of things going on and we don’t even know about them,” said Bob Wallace, Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce director.

To reach out to all these businesses, volunteers in the community are stepping up to conduct business-to-business visits. Through these visits, two-person teams can connect to other local business leaders, asking questions and taking notes about products and services, workforce, community strengths and weaknesses, public policy, market information, and investment plans.

The idea is gain a broader understanding of local industries, while at the same time sharing expertise and building relationships.

The communication helps to strengthen communities as a whole and individual businesses, according to Kathi Schaff, who works statewide with the Grow Minnesota! program.

The people conducting the business visits aren’t charged with solving the problems they learn about, but it may be that they can help in unexpected ways. In one instance Schaff cited, a business in need of an industry-specific item was connected to a local supplier – the two businesses were operating within the same city but unaware of the other’s existence prior to the Grow Minnesota! visit.

The program also helps the Chamber gather intel about key issues businesses are struggling with across the state. For example, through Grow Minnesota! business visits in 2013, the Chamber learned more information about the difficulties businesses are facing with employee recruitment, since 51 percent of businesses reported difficulty recruiting employees.

All the information shared in the visits is confidential, Schaff said, offering reassurance that no business-specific data is used by the Chamber.

In 2013, the 67 statewide entities participating in Grow Minnesota! conducted 902 one-on-one business retention visits, 27 of which were revisits. Nearly 200 firms were assisted, affecting 3,865 jobs, according to the 2013 annual Grow Minnesota! report.