Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon spent a part of last week doing what he calls the best and most necessary part of his job: Visiting with local business communities and elected officials to hear about and discuss ways his office and staff can address the needs of Minnesotans.

“You can’t do that well sitting in a bubble in your office,” he said, explaining this marks the third year he’s visited with people in each of the state’s 87 counties.

On his swing through the northwest and north central part of the state, he made stops in Koochiching, Kittson, Roseau, Lake of the Woods and Itasca counties.

And while he acknowledged the most visible part of his job is heading up the state’s elections, he told a gathering in International Falls Thursday there are more people on his staff working on the business aspects of his office.

“We’re the welcome mat for business in Minnesota,” he told a dozen or so area chamber of commerce, and city and county officials gathered at Voyageurs National Park Headquarters. He discussed with the group work being done to streamline business services to allow Minnesotans to spend more time running their businesses and less time shuffling paperwork, he said.

The office’s mission, he said, is to make it as easy as possible to start and maintain a business in the state. To that end, he said part of the job entails not goofing up what the law says a business must do, but also to add value to the business community.

Simon pointed to his recent launch of the Minnesota Business Snapshot, a new initiative designed to better serve Minnesotans — consumers, small business owners, and learning institutions — with data and information on the economic and demographic make-up of Minnesota’s businesses.

The Minnesota Business Snapshot, or MBS, is a voluntary, five-question survey offered to nearly 550,000 new and existing businesses in Minnesota as they file their annual renewal each calendar year with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.

The survey asks Minnesota business owners a variety of questions, including how many full-time employees they have; whether they self-identify as a member of a specific community, such as a veteran, woman, or community of color; the industry or field in which the business operates; whether it’s a full-time or part-time endeavor; and gross revenues for the past year.

Simon asked for feedback from those attending about the value of the questions, and how the MBS could be made more useful. He urged people to check out the MBS, and noted for $100 anyone can get the entire spreadsheet from the state.

To date, more than 141,000 businesses have taken part in the MBS, which recently began offering custom economic and demographic data, he said.

The information can, for example, assist consumers with identifying veteran-owned businesses along with a lot of other uses, he said.

Simon also spoke about a partnership with the St. Cloud State University School of Public Affairs Research Institute to produce customized economic analyses, reviews and forecasts for Minnesota on a quarterly and regional basis.

These are great tools for Minnesota business owners and consumers, he said, because it allows them to “draw real conclusions” on the economic health of their region.

“The quarterly report is part rear view mirror — where we are now and where we are heading,” he said. He pointed to a regional grocery store chain owner of who used the report to consider expanding his chain.

Simon told the group by contacting his office, they could receive the report directly in an email.

He said the state may be divided into more than the now six-region to provide more specific data about an area.

Meanwhile, those attending said they see value in the snapshot as well as the reports as the community attempts to address workforce issues that include a lack of skilled workers and a number of vacant jobs.

Other issues discussed with Simon Thursday include a lack of child care and especially concerning, a lack of 24-hour child care providers that could help shift workers.

Housing concerns, including a lack of affordable and quality rentals in the community, are making it difficult to draw workers, especially young families, to the community, some noted.

Other issues challenging the local business community include the lack of broadband services that would allow people to work from locations away from their job sites, and the lack of amenities that would help to draw people to available jobs and then keep them in the community.

Meanwhile, Simon met with Lake of the Woods County Auditor Lorene Hanson to hear from a local election official on the administration of the 2016 election, as well as highlight his successful push to help replace Minnesota’s aging election equipment, said a news release.

In Grand Rapids, he visited Advocates for Family Peace and met with a Safe at Home application assistant. Safe at Home is designed to assist Minnesotans who wish to keep the location of their physical residence private for personal safety reasons, often because they are victims of domestic violence or stalking.

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