Economic gardening project launched

Anoka County has launched a program to help local businesses grow.

Karen Skepper
Karen Skepper

Earlier this year, the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) entered into a $150,000 contract with the Edward Lowe Foundation to put in place what is called an economic gardening project.

Its purpose is to help small and mid-sized (second-stage) businesses grow without leaving the county, according to Karen Skepper, county community and economic development coordinator who is spearheading the project for the county.

The Anoka County Economic Gardening Project is managed by the National Center for Economic Gardening and hosted by the Edward Lowe Foundation, which has spearheaded successful economic gardening efforts around the country.

It was at the 3M Championship in early August that the county announced the project’s launch.

According to Skepper, companies that the county is targeting for participation in the program were invited to the county tent at the TPC in Blaine to hear a presentation on the program, which included a representative from the Edward Lowe Foundation and a business owner from Hennepin County, who had successfully completed that county’s pilot project.

“We had a good mix of likely candidates,” Skepper said.

The county is now taking applications from businesses to be part the program and up to 15 will be selected in October.

Over a one-year period, at no charge to them, the business owners chosen will meet in large group and small group sessions as well as have one-on-meetings with a strategic research team from the National Center for Economic Gardening.

At these small sessions, the CEOs will work with experts in such areas as the Internet, GIS, market research and human resources to come up with action plans to grow their businesses, according to Skepper.

“Over the year, the companies will implement the action plan designed to stimulate business growth,” Skepper said.

“Each company is assured of 35 hours of resource help.”

According to the county’s economic gardening network website, the program targets growth-oriented companies and provides “a suite of high-end, high-speed business growth resources.”

The website lists eligibility criteria and provides an application that can be completed online and sent to the county.

Specific requirements include:

• A for-profit, privately-held company headquartered and operating in Anoka County.

• Have between $750,000 and $50 million in annual revenue or working capital in place from investors or grants.

• Employ six to 99 full-time equivalent W-2 workers, including the owner.

• Maintained its principal place of business in Anoka County for at least the previous two years.

• Potential growth in revenue the next three years must exceed $1 million.

• Demonstrated growth in either revenue or employees in two of the last five years.

• Provide product(s) and/or services beyond current service area to regional and/or international markets.

• Must be referred by an Anoka County Economic Gardening Program representative.

To recruit businesses to be part of the program, Skepper has been working with chambers of commerce located in the county, as well as economic development officials from cities in the county, attorneys, bankers and financial consultants, she said.

Skepper and Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah attended a meeting earlier this year with city of Coon Rapids officials where the Hennepin County economic gardening program was presented.

Following that meeting, Sivarajah directed that Anoka County begin the process of putting an economic gardening project in place.

At that time, Sivarajah said in an interview that she was enthusiastic about the program.

“I think so many times, the economic development focus is on bringing new companies into the area and while that’s very positive, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle,” she said.

This program provides the tools and technical assistance so that small businesses can grow and prosper, according to Sivarajah.

It is the smaller companies that create jobs in the community, Sivarajah said.

The HRA contract with the Edward Lowe Foundation is for one year, but other communities that have hired the foundation renew the agreement year after year, according to Skepper.

There is no cost to the companies that are part of the economic gardening project in the first year, Skepper said.

But if they come back into the program in subsequent years, then they will have to pay a fee, she said.

According to Skepper, economic gardening is particularly designed to help businesses that may have reached a stumbling block in their growth efforts and need support to overcome the problem.

“This is a business retention and growth program,” Skepper said.

“We don’t often hear about businesses that need some help in growing until they move out of the county.”

“With this economic gardening program, we can provide that help.”

According to the Edward Lowe Foundation website, the three basic elements of economic gardening are:

• Providing critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.

• Developing and cultivating an infrastructure that goes beyond the basic physical infrastructure and includes quality of life, a culture that embraces growth and change, and access to intellectual resources, including qualified and talented employees.

• Developing connections between businesses and the people and organizations that can help take them to the next level.

The foundation is a nationally-recognized entrepreneurship development organization headquartered in Cassopolis, Mich.

Ed and Darlene Lowe established the foundation in 1985 to “champion the entrepreneurial spirit” and leverage entrepreneurship as a strategy for economic growth and community development.

The foundation hosts the National Center for Economic Gardening.

For more information contact Skepper at 763-323-5709 or go online to

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]