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Minnesota Chamber -- brightening a dark economy

Grow Minnesota! was launched six years ago on the premise that no one was thanking Minnesota businesses for investing in our state. Today, this Minnesota Chamber of Commerce program is helping to retain and create jobs across the state.

This private-sector economic development initiative distinguishes itself from other public- and private-sector efforts through the hundreds of confidential conversations with business leaders. These on-one-one connections also have helped the program evolve to serve the changing needs of companies in our global economy.

Our tool for assisting small businesses was strengthened through a recent partnership with the Pohlad Family Foundation, which has pledged at least $5 million to help small businesses survive the current economic crisis and be posed for recovery.

Grow Minnesota!, in tandem with 40-plus local chambers of commerce, visits nearly 800 companies each year. We started by thanking them for employing Minnesotans and asking about their challenges to grow in Minnesota. We quickly discovered that many companies needed help solving problems related to state and local government rules and regulations.

We now work with about 100 companies annually on everything from highway signs to air quality permits to sites for business expansions. Tracking down solutions to problems inherent in everyday business operations has become a key part of Grow Minnesota! Not all of the success stories make big headlines, but each time we help a business solve a problem, we help keep jobs in Minnesota.

As successful as we have been in linking businesses with those who can provide answers, two things became evident. No 1, Grow Minnesota! is establishing a relationship with only a fraction of the more than 100,000 Minnesota businesses. No. 2, finding answers to business questions can be quite daunting.

Getting answers to thousands of Minnesota businesses that have questions, but are not visited by Grow Minnesota!, demanded new strategies. Our solution was the launch of BusinessConnection -- a one-stop statewide assistance and referral network. The network is available to all businesses and can be reached toll-free by calling 888-MINN-BIZ (646-6249) with live operators standing by. On the Web, go to

Businesses face enough obstacles in today's economy without being frustrated in their attempts to find answers to simple questions or to navigate the regulatory landscape. Companies seek a range of information - everything from how to start, expand or sell businesses to s securing permits and patents to providing direction on human resources and marketing issues. BusinessConnection guides them to quick, complete and accurate answers.   Our arsenal of assistance was bolstered in April when the Pohlad Family Foundation announced the availability of at least $5 million in small business assistance. This alliance allows us to offer financial assistance along with problem-solving. The fact that Pohlad chose Grow Minnesota! to manage and distribute the money is testament to our pulse of the business landscape.

Grow Minnesota! is becoming our state's leading private-sector source of business assistance. With every conversation and call, we are building important bonds between a business and our state and increasing the utilization of our state's great network of people and programs designed to help businesses succeed in Minnesota.

(Jon Campbell is chair of the Grow Minnesota! Advisory Committee and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Region, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Minneapolis.)