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Governor's plan comes to Cloquet - though Governor does not

Although inclement weather kept Governor Tim Pawlenty from landing in Cloquet last Friday to tout his proposed plan to cultivate business growth in rural Minnesota, the first meeting of many around the state went on thanks to several members of h...

Although inclement weather kept Governor Tim Pawlenty from landing in Cloquet last Friday to tout his proposed plan to cultivate business growth in rural Minnesota, the first meeting of many around the state went on thanks to several members of his staff.

Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, presented the governor's plan called, "Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development" (SEED) to an audience that filled the city council chambers.

With input from cities and towns across the state, SEED is a new initiative that focuses on expanding Greater Minnesota's small businesses and economies.

Sixty-four counties in Greater Minnesota, including Carlton County, are identified as those which will benefit from the SEED program. These counties have either experienced population decline or have unemployment rates greater than the state average. Carlton County, as well as much of the rest of Northeastern Minnesota qualify due to population decline, according to McElroy.

The SEED program would focus on small business as the backbone of Minnesota's economy and work to build the base of those businesses and build on their success. Greater Minnesota has more than 60,000 businesses with fewer than 100 employees, according to SEED documents.

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The plan will bring lasting growth by encouraging new business, growing existing business and strengthening rural communities.

To that end, SEED would help entrepreneurs by creating a new Office of Entrepreneurship for sharing information about small business services through an Entrepreneurial Network and reducing commonly-faced barriers. They would also help rural businesses participate in international trade workshops, gain access to better online information and access federal funding for technology research and development, among other plans.

In the realm of new capital, the plan would devote $13.5 million to igniting entrepreneurs, fuel existing business development and encourage private investment.

Investors would receive a 25 percent tax credit when they invest in regional "angel" funds that focus on emerging businesses and new technologies.

A revolving "micro" loan fund would be created to offer $10,000 to $50,000 to small businesses for things like new equipment, according to McElroy.

Matching grants to aid in product development would also be offered.

Finally, the program would update JOBZ, Governor Pawlenty's marquee economic development program. Local and state tax exemptions for new and expanding businesses would extend 12 years in Carlton County for agreements signed by Dec. 31, 2015.

State matching grants to help revitalize downtowns through cities or groups of qualifying communities working together on business creation and retention, job creation and general economic vitality.

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SEED would also help with rising infrastructure costs faced by many cities across Minnesota, especially in the area of sewer systems, McElroy said.

"We do have a particularly significant backlog on sewer projects, which would be helped by federal matching money," he said.

Funding for SEED would start with a $20 million infusion from the state general fund, with an additional $50 million in one-time bonding.

"I want to emphasize that this is a proposal responding to what we heard and we will take this to the Minnesota Legislature in 2008," McElroy said.

More information about SEED is available at www.positivelyminnesota.com .

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