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A friend in SEED is a friend indeed -- Commissioner stumps for $70 million plan to spur rural business growth

Minnesota has a problem: How to keep so many of its outstate young people from moving to the Twin Cities area.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty thinks part of the answer lies in cultivating small business growth in rural Minnesota.

Next month, he will ask the Legislature for $70 million in 2009 funding for his Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development (SEED) program.

It's a different approach to economic development, and a nod to how most business growth in outstate Minnesota actually occurs: Instead of trying to lure large businesses to relocate from out-of-state or the metro area, it's designed to help the locals grow their own businesses.

The governor wants legislators to sow the SEED program with funding to help entrepreneurs, new capital for business interests, and programs designed to give a competitive advantage to rural Minnesota.

The idea is to help people with a sound business plan launch new businesses, and to help existing small businesses grow.

Dan McElroy, the commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (that's right, DEED is running SEED) was in Detroit Lakes Thursday, enthusiastically stumping for Legislative funding.

"It's in nobody's interest to have a robust, 21st century economy from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud, and a struggling, 20th Century economy in the rest of the state," he said.

He was joined by Minnesota Colleges and Universities Chancellor James McCormick, who hinted that Minnesota State University in Moorhead -- or perhaps one of the two-year campuses in the area -- might be a good location for a proposed $10 million bioscience development building that is part of the SEED initiative.

SEED includes $20 million in general fund spending for 19 programs -- most existing, a few new -- all designed to boost business growth in rural Minnesota.

And the legislative request includes $50 million in bonding money. Of that, $20 million would go to business development infrastructure, another $20 million to a redevelopment grant program, and the final $10 million to the bioscience development building.

MnSCU will play a partnership role in SEED, McCormick said.

"Each location will be a portal to all that we do," he said. "I just hope you'll all see us as a very cooperative partner, a very important partner, as we begin to develop these initiatives Commissioner McElroy was talking about."