By Dawn Weitzel, Chamber President

Whether your business is just getting off the ground or has been operating for years, there are plenty of resources readily available to help stimulate further growth. The best part – most of these programs are free and conveniently located in our area.

Explore these programs to see what works best for you, then more importantly, follow though to benefit your business and the local community.

New Businesses

Scott County Open to Business provides free, confidential business counseling to prospective entrepreneurs. Experienced consultants work with small business owners in strategic planning; marketing and communications planning; regulatory, tax, licensing, and accounting training; and financial assessment. Direct financing and loans in partnership with banks and nonprofit lenders are available that can be used for inventory, working capital, asset and equipment purchases, real estate acquisition, and start-up costs.

New and Seasoned Businesses

Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) feature free and confidential help for business owners facing challenges in running their existing businesses, as well as for entrepreneurs working to bring their business concept to reality. SBDC clients can receive assistance on business start-up issues, marketing, financing, loan packaging, purchasing an existing business, refinancing, strategic planning and virtually every aspect of business management. A satellite SBDC office is located at the Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount. The Rice County SBDC is located in Faribault.

South Metro SCORE offers business counseling to help entrepreneurs and small businesses evaluate and prepare plans, stabilize, grow, innovate, and succeed. With the largest network of volunteer business mentors, SCORE pairs you with the right expert who provides free consulting to address your business questions. The organization offers dozens of local business webinar workshops, such as “Start Your Own Business,” “How to Price Your Products and Services,” and “Cyber Crime 101: What to Look For.” There’s also an online library with blogs, e-guides, and spreadsheets to help you make decisions on starting or growing your enterprise. South Metro SCORE is located in Burnsville.

James J. Hill Center offers research, programs, and networking for each stage of business development. An extensive list of curated databases covers connecting with new clients, understanding competition, and finding target audiences. Research guides include finding funding, and company, industry, and market research. The center also offers a 10-week program, Co.Starters, which equips entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn ideas into action. Curriculum includes “Knowing Yourself,” “Knowing Your Customer,” “Strengthening Your Structure,” “Building Your Model to Scale,” “Strengthening Your Structure,” and “Planning for the Future.” The Co.Starters program fee is $500/participant. The center is located in St. Paul.

Don’t forget about the resources through our library system! Two of my favorites are:

DemographicsNow: Detailed data on U.S. households, consumers, and businesses that can help in job searching, starting a business, finding people, marketing, and more. Self-paced, on-demand video tutorials for learning business, technical, and creative skills. Topics include software, photography, animation, presentation skills, game design, digital publishing, and cloud computing.