‘Building Better Business’ poised for launch in Crookston, just needs money

By By Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times, Minn.

It’s exceedingly difficult to find anyone who isn’t a fan of CHEDA’s new B3 (Building Better Business) initiative that’s been in the works for months and poised for launch in 2019. But without funding to get it off the ground, it will likely won’t take flight.

In unanimously approving the B3 initiative Tuesday, the CHEDA Board of Directors put the proverbial ball in the Crookston City Council’s court, because if an estimated $50,000 in B3 startup money is going to be earmarked, the allocation is going to come from the City and funneled through CHEDA.

B3 at its heart is a grant program meant to encourage entrepreneurship and new business ventures in Crookston that, in the process, provide new jobs, add to the commercial tax base, boost community vitality, and occupy underutilized or vacant buildings. And if the new entrepreneurs are graduates of Crookston High School, the University of Minnesota Crookston or Northland Community and Technical College, even better.

Funds awarded through B3 can be invested by entrepreneurs in things like new/improved signage, startup costs, business/workforce development, storefront enhancement, purchase of supplies, equipment or software, renovations, advertising and marketing, increased hours of operation, boosting community vitality, downpayments toward leasing or purchasing a commercial location, or specific job training.

B3 grants for individuals can be up to $3,000. If they are CHS, UMC or NCTC graduates, they’re eligible for up to $1,000 more, and the same goes for if they are willing to relocate their business in Crookston. With those additional qualifications, the maximum grant award would be $5,000. B3 guidelines indicate eligible people can receive a maximum of two B3 grants.

When discussions first commenced in early 2018 on some sort of incentive program to boost new, local business ventures — spurred by Crookston City Council Member Jake Fee — B3 emerged as a purely grant-based program. But in order to encourage budding entrepreneurs to put some “skin in the game,” B3 evolved into a grant program that requires a 1:1 match.

Considering the jobs they provide and their propensity for occupying underutilized and vacant spaces, the CHEDA Board made a last-minute modification before Tuesday’s vote in favor, in the form of making nonprofit ventures eligible for B3 as well.

“I like it; it’s very well put together,” Fee said. “It’s putting a big sign out there, saying Crookston is open for business, or we’re pro-business, and that’s a very good thing.”

While it’s not unusual for a local graduate to move away from Crookston and return years later when they’re more established in their career and possibly married and looking to start a family — or has a family already — B3 proponents said it would be even better if the new graduates didn’t leave in the first place.

“Anything we can do to keep our graduates here is a great thing,” UMC Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause said. “We want our talent to stay. Obviously, we want them to come back (if they leave after graduation), but we would love it if they just stayed in the first place.”

Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson echoed those sentiments.

“The natural inclination is for kids to leave, and when they leave they start having families elsewhere,” he said. “But that could be increased enrollment here if they’d stayed, or came back in part because of a program like this.”

Under B3 guidelines, if a funding recipient moves his/her business from Crookston within two years of receipt of the funds, half the money must be paid back. Also, if a project assisted by B3 funding is not completed within six months of receipt of funds, all of the B3 funds must be paid back.

In addition to B3 funding, recipients, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said, would be able to potentially utilize CHEDA incubation resources at Valley Technology Park, including services provided by Christine Anderson at Crookston’s new Small Business Development Center.

Funding?

The city council allocates funding for CHEDA every year. In 2019, CHEDA’s budget requests a $140,000 stipend from the council. And the council has been known to, at times, funnel additional dollars to CHEDA when the budget allows it. For example, several years ago the council sent an additional $100,000 CHEDA’s way, which became the successful housing rehab program that’s still going strong.

If B3 is to become reality in 2019, Hoiseth figures he’ll need around $50,000 to launch it. A good problem to have would be that all of the money gets spent via matched grants, but he also said it’s possible that $50,000 will be more than enough money to get the program going and keep it going for a while.

But B3’s popularity will never be known without some startup cash, so it’s likely as the city council begins the process of finalizing its 2019 budget, B3 will come up in discussion at an upcoming Ways & Means Committee meeting.

“It’s good to get this approved now, but then you’ve got to find the cash,” Mayor Wayne Melbye said Tuesday. “We’ll let the council have a look at it.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.