The State of Small Business in Minnesota

Last week, I had the privilege of taking part in a discussion at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management regarding the need to accurately measure Minnesota’s small business population.  The discussion was initiated by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and included, among others, myself, Secretary Ritchie, members of the Carlson School faculty, along with representatives from New Business Minnesota, the Federal Reserve Bank, and Wells Fargo.

Secretary Ritchie’s touchpoint for the discussion was a 2010 report from the Itasca Project which concluded that Minnesota’s climate for small businesses was poor without offering much empirical evidence to support such a conclusion.  By contrast, the Secretary of State’s office can show over 60,000 new business filings.

Hence the issue:  what can we glean by marrying the Secretary of State’s data to other databases such as unemployment compensation filers, Department of Revenue filings, and so on.  And, more importantly, what can the data tell us about what small businesses’ true influence in Minnesota and what lawmakers can or should do to address the needs of these enterprises. 

It is clear to me that policymakers too often lump small businesses together with Fortune 500 companies and other large businesses under a general rubric of “businesses.”  However, tax and regulatory policies differ significantly in their impact on small businesses versus large businesses.  Further, health insurance is a much more difficult issue for a small business owner to tackle than a large business with access to large group health plans.  The list goes on and on. 

The bottom line is that there are individuals right now who are saying take this job – or at least this job market – and shove it, opting instead for small business ownership to provide a living, and policymakers who are focused on “jobs, jobs and jobs” have to know how many folks are no longer looking for a job from someone else, having made the decision to strike out on their own.

There will be more discussion, and hopefully our discussions will lead to a larger discussion about this very important topic, and kudos to Secretary Ritchie for recognizing a need and doing something affirmative to address it.