Economic gardening a success in Anoka County

Buoyed by the success of its economic gardening program, which was launched last fall to help businesses in the county grow, the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority has given the green light for a second year of the program.

It has authorized entering into a $100,000 contract with the Edward Lowe Foundation to facilitate its economic gardening program.

However, this year it will be a regional program involving five counties, not just Anoka County.

Anoka, Hennepin, Carver, Scott and suburban Ramsey counties have established the Regional Economic Gardening Partnership to provide select growth companies with business research and enhancement at no cost to them.

Anoka and Hennepin counties are currently operating individual pilot economic gardening projects targeted at second-stage companies who show a potential for job creation and longer-term business growth.

Through the partnership, the counties will implement the foundation’s economic gardening program to provide practical tools and techniques designed specifically for growing regional second-stage companies within those counties, according to Karen Skepper, Anoka County community development manager.

From Anoka County’s perspective, the second year of the program will continue to operate very much as it has for the current eight-month cycle, Skepper said.

The counties will individually take applications for program participation – the deadline is July 15 for a September/October start – with a maximum of 15 business owners chosen, and the counties will operate their own programs.

Each chief executive officer will receive 40 hours of one-on-one customized training where they will work with a team of advisers to learn about business tools and resources that Fortune 500 companies have used to be successful, according to Skepper.

They will also take part in eight half-day roundtable sessions, led by a representative from the Edward Lowe Foundation, where they will hear from experts in such areas as Internet, GIS, market research and human resources to develop action plans to grow their business, Skepper said.

The difference will come with the large forum events, which are open to the other business owners not just those who are part of the economic development program, she said.

These forums will be hosted by a different county each month on a rotating basis, Skepper said.

The Anoka County roundtables and forums will take place at Rasmussen College in Blaine.

In the first year of its economic gardening program, Anoka County has put on four large forums, bringing in speakers who head companies that have experienced significant growth in operations and employment to share their stories.

In March, the speaker was Jodi (Sizer) Boldenow, president and chief executive officer of Industrial Door Company in Coon Rapids, while the speaker at the past forum, May 28, was Kieran Folliard, former owner of Twin Cities area pubs and now owner of 2 Gingers Whiskey.

“The first year of the program has been very successful,” Skepper said.

That includes not only helping the 15 business owners from a wide spectrum of companies who signed up for the program to solve issues that might stunt their expansion and job creation, but also linking business owners who are not part of the program but who have attended the large forums, she said.

Skepper cited an example of two business owners who met each other at one of the forums and found that they could help each other’s business grow by working together.

“The forums open up opportunities for everyone,” Skepper said.

To be eligible for the county’s economic gardening program, the business owner must have between 10 and 99 employees and have been in business in Anoka County for at least two years and be ready to expand, but may face challenges to growth.

It must be a nonprofit, privately held company; have between $1 million and $50 million in annual revenue or working capital in place from investors or grants; demonstrate growth in either revenue or employees in two of the past five years; and provide products and/or services beyond current service area to regional, national or global markets.

The impetus for the economic gardening program in Anoka County came from a meeting in the spring of 2012 that the city of Coon Rapids hosted.

It was attended by Skepper and Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah and a presentation on the Hennepin County project was given.

Following that meeting, Sivarajah directed county staff to start the process of creating an economic gardening project in Anoka County.

The Edward Lowe 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.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]