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Economic Development Commission to offer second round of business Web site grants, Internet seminars

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission has limited funds available through its business retention and expansion technology advisory committee for grants to help businesses create a Web site or expand an existing Web site to include e-commerce.

The grant program is available for Kandiyohi County businesses that meet the business definition under the Small Business Administration guidelines. Applicants are eligible for up to $500 in matching grant funds.

The Web site grant program was first made available last year as part of a grant the Economic Development Commission received through the Blandin Foundation's "Get Broadband" program. It was so successful that the EDC decided to offer a second round of grants this year.

"The mission of the Economic Development Commission is to be a catalyst for economic growth of the greater Kandiyohi County area. This program supports that mission by offering businesses another tool to grow their business and expand into new markets with their goods and services, thereby increasing their business success," said Steve Renquist, EDC executive director.

"While attracting or landing a big new company deal to the area is exciting and creates a lot of buzz, working with existing businesses throughout the county to create or grow good jobs is the fundamental heart of economic development and what we do," Renquist said.

According to Jim Millard, technology advisory committee chairman, "Technology is the arena that businesses can utilize to stand out from the pack by either being more efficient in their procedures or developing new markets utilizing the resources of the worldwide Web."

Technology and access to broadband Internet are so critical to Minnesota that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently reported that it will likely become part of the discussion to include federal funding for Internet service improvements in a federal stimulus package.

According to members of the Economic Development Commission technology advisory committee, this is especially true for small businesses. The profit margins for these small companies can be very thin, and embracing and using technology can make a difference for the bottom line. This can include electronic bookkeeping, supply and inventory management, payment of invoices and reporting taxes, as well as marketing and sales.

As part of the Web grant program, the Economic Development Commission also is partnering with Ridgewater College to offer two half-day Web site seminars on Feb. 17 at the college.

The seminars will provide background knowledge to help small businesses be more successful in establishing their first Web site or upgrading an existing site to do more for their business. Topics for the first session include setting up a basic Web site, and creating a marketable Web site. The second session will cover how to optimize and enhance a Web site and utilize e-commerce. Both sessions will feature speakers from local businesses who have already been through the process of starting their own Web site and can share the challenges and successes they encountered.

The seminars are open to businesses throughout the region at a cost of $49 per person for each of the half-day sessions. Participants may sign up for the morning or afternoon session or both. Applicants for the EDC Web site grants are urged to attend at least one of the classes to help better prepare them for developing their own Web site.

For more information on the grant application process or the community business seminars, contact Jean Spaulding of the Economic Development Commission, 320-235-7370 or

-- Anne Polta