Anoka County aims to help businesses get to the next level

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2013 - 5:32 PM

Anoka County is offering 50 hours of free consulting on growth strategies to select business.

Business owners, you've survived those adrenaline-fueled startup days. You're established and enjoying some success.

But there still are major hurdles on the horizon. How will you sustain what you've built and grow?

For a select group of businesses at that crossroads, Anoka County is offering 50 hours of free consulting and other services. Consultants will review business plans and growth strategies, help prioritize sales leads, and develop a bold online presence.

The county has teamed up with the Edward Lowe Foundation to launch an "economic gardening" program designed to help businesses grow. Edward Lowe, a native of St. Paul who went on to become a Michigan entrepreneur, invented kitty litter and created a new industry that now generates $2 billion in annual U.S. sales. Lowe realized that second-stage was where he struggled the most and set up his foundation to help other businesses at that juncture. The foundation partners with a Colorado businessman who developed the economic gardening model.

"For midsized businesses, there are no programs out there," said Karen Skepper, Anoka County director of community and governmental relations. "They are making money now, and it's hard to find a program to go to that next level."

The "grow from within" strategy targeting existing businesses is a fresh approach for cities and counties, often focused on courting new and outside businesses, Skepper said.

The county has selected its first class of 15 businesses, and it is spending $150,000 on the program and hopes to spur economic growth and foster a fierce loyalty among participating businesses.

John LeTourneau, director of manufacturing for the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, recruited businesses for the economic gardening program.

"To me, it makes so much sense. I like the idea they are known companies established in the community that have a history of success, "said LeTourneau, an executive development coach at C02 Partners. "Building on that success makes so much sense. They are already providing jobs and paying taxes."

After the startup phase, businesses plateau and can benefit from a fresh set of eyes, LeTourneau said. "The adrenaline-fueled startup days are really all about energy. When you get to a second stage or third stage, it's not so much about energy -- it's about how to focus your resources. You need to rely on more integrated teams in your organization to develop the same value or more value."

This program isn't just motivational speeches. Businesses are required to submit detailed financial information and their presidents or CEOs must attend each monthly meeting -- no proxies allowed.

Businesses leaders will attend monthly peer groups and quarterly educational forums and will work with a team of business consultants for 50 hours of customized research and consulting in the areas of leadership, market research, social media, operations, geographic information systems and quality control.

The list of chosen Anoka County businesses includes a law firm, a manufacturer, a product design company and a retailer. Participating businesses must be a for-profit, privately held company that has been headquartered in Anoka County for at least the past two years. The business must generate annual revenue or working capital between $750,000 and $50 million, employ between 6 and 99 people and demonstrate growth in employment or revenue.

Coon Rapids law firm Barna, Guzy & Steffen will participate in the economic gardening program. The firm, established 75 years ago, employs 64 people, including 30 attorneys. President Jeffrey Johnson said it's time to reevaluate the firm's strategic plan, which hasn't changed significantly in the past decade.

"It is an opportunity to be somewhat reflective on how your business is doing and your growth plan, and get some outside advice to see if you are on the right track, or if there are other things you should be considering," Johnson said.

The firm periodically hires outside consultants to update its strategic plan, Johnson said. That costs between $25,000 and $50,000, so the county's program, which is free to businesses, has real value.

Kablooe Design, a Blaine-based company that specializes in product design and development, also will participate. About 80 percent of Kablooe's business revolves around medical device development, but the company has developed and designed everything from a self-serve milkshake machine to a tool for prostate surgery.

Kablooe president and cofounder Tom KraMer said he applied for the program because the company is working on a project it may want to spin off into a nonprofit. Kablooe is partnering with a hospital to produce "magic arms," an orthopedic device for children with muscular dystrophy and other degenerative diseases that amplifies the muscle strength in their arms.

"Now they can hug their parents, play with toys and feed themselves with a spoon," KraMer explained. "If we can get support and resources and networking help with this, it's definitely worthwhile.

"In business, the more people you know that become involved, the better your chances of success. If you try to lone wolf something on your own, your chances of success are far less."

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

  • LEARN MORE

    Anoka County is hosting an economic gardening forum open to the public at 5 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Rasmussen College in Blaine. For more information, contact Karen Skepper at 763-323-5709 or karen.skepper.co.anoka.mn.us.

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