A total of 1.2 million - that's how many workers in Minnesota rely on small businesses for their jobs. In all, small businesses employ 52 percent of workers statewide. These are remarkable numbers and a reason to join in reflecting on last month's National Small Business Month as we recognize the nearly 30 million small businesses that impact America's culture and economy.

Small business entrepreneurs have tremendous impact within our communities. Not only do they provide jobs, they also contribute to the quality of life. Small business owners form the backbone of their local communities. They participate in community activities. They support local charities. They take an interest in environmental and recreational concerns, crime prevention, and other community issues. A reported 90 percent of entrepreneurs donate money to charitable causes - and 70 percent donate both time and money to local philanthropic organizations.

In honor of Small Business Month this year, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) would like to recognize SCORE for its work in supporting entrepreneurs. Our SMIF office houses the South Central Minnesota SCORE chapter, so we have seen firsthand how profitable it can be. SCORE is made up of volunteers who are trained to serve as counselors, advisors, and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, and their services are offered at no cost. This valuable resource provides entrepreneurs with experience and expertise at every stage of the business life cycle, from formation to planning for sale or exit.

SCORE is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. During this time, SCORE has served more than 10 million entrepreneurs since 1964, with a network of 320 chapter locations and 11,000 volunteer mentors. Locally, we have 29 volunteer mentors that have served a total of 120 clients. These volunteers average over 100 hours a month of free, confidential face-to-face and email counseling to entrepreneurs and businesses. We are proud to be able to host this respected program and offer this service to our region.

In addition to SCORE, SMIF provides a range of financing packages for small to large businesses, as well as technical assistance to new and existing businesses. We also partner with local financial institutions and economic development agencies on new and existing business growth. Since last July, we have provided 29 loans and 3,000 hours of technical assistance hours to small businesses.  

We're excited about our foundation's role in providing resources to local entrepreneurs - and we have many options available. If you want more information about how we can help you start or grow a business, visit our website at www.smifoundation.org or call (507) 455-3215.

Tim Penny is president/CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He welcomes your questions and comments. You can reach him at timp@smifoundation.org.