Small business for small business

Plymouth-based nonprofit focuses on the needs of ‘the little guy’

A statewide organization of business owners has come together under the mantra “representing the real needs of small business.”

The Plymouth-based nonprofit organization Small Business Minnesota has recently found its feet and has experienced the current legislative session as a sort of baptism by fire in lobbying for and representing what it calls “the largest employer in Minnesota.”

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Ben Kyriagis, right, co-founded Small Business Minnesota and spent hours testifying on behalf of the group at the Capitol concerning the health care exchange. He is pictured with the staff of his Plymouth-based company, World Trade Network, Ltd. From left: Ben’s wife and Vice President Shelley Kyriagis, Officer Manager Susan Auyer and Office Assistant Cathie Lorenz. (Sun staff photo by Brian Rosemeyer)

Audrey Britton, business owner and the organization’s Government Relations and Affairs Committee Chair, maintains that 98 percent of businesses in Minnesota are small businesses. She continued to say that roughly 98 percent of current public policy favors big business.

“Minnesota, as a state, has more Fortune 500’s per capita than any other state. It’s a good business environment,” Britton said. “But, small businesses in the private sector employ more Minnesotans than all those Fortune 500’s combined.”

Figures such as these spurred the formation of the nonprofit roughly two years ago.

The group is made of around 300 businesses across the state, most of which employ 100 or fewer people. In the past six months the organization has established a board and has begun working on the legislative priorities of its members.

Ben Kyriagis, co-chair of the organization, said it was formed out of a feeling of misrepresentation in the political realm from other business organizations.

“We basically feel that the real needs of small businesses are not discussed,” said Kyriagis.

He is President of World Trade Network Ltd., an international distributor of marine electronics with a staff of four, including himself, headquartered in Plymouth.

Kyriagis co-founded the organization in efforts to strengthen the voice of businesses similar in size to his.

That voice was first heard this year as Minnesota legislature grappled with building a health care exchange and exploring tax reform.

The group spent hours testifying at the Capitol concerning the exchange and the proposed tax structure, including proposals to tax business-to-business transactions. The group has no paid lobbyists, and all who testified were business owners themselves.

“For the little guy, with a modest living and maybe a few employees, these are the issues that they really care about,” said Noel Martinson, the group’s co-chair and President of Acclaim Data Analytics of Long Lake. “We formed because we wanted more accurate representation of the needs of small business. There are enough of us where we have a pretty strong voice when we get together.”

And their voice was heard; Gov. Mark Dayton publicly credited redirection in the health insurance exchange to a number of organizations including Small Business Minnesota.

Kyriagis said the health care exchange was the leading concern for members surveyed.

“Our members feel very strongly about the fact that we have not seen a good solution for health care for small business,” he said. “We’ve been working on the health exchange because it offers the hope that we will be able to buy insurance at a lower rate and in a simpler way.”

As the legislative session begins to wind down, and with the nonprofit’s first real lobbying experience behind them, the group looks to grow and begin functioning as a host to small businesses functions statewide.

Martinson said the group hopes to begin offering networking opportunities to members and to serve as an educational entity in years to come.

“We are still young, but we’re growing pretty fast,” he said.

Britton said members represent around 30 cities in the state, and she invites any small business owner to join the organization.

Applications for membership can be found at smallbusinessmn.org, and the fee to join is a suggested contribution of $75. However, she said, that cost is flexible in respects to the financial capabilities of small business owners.

Kyriagis said his goal is to continue basing efforts and mission on data and keeping the vision of the organization focused on fact-based intentions that foster a better environment for small business in Minnesota.

“I believe very strongly in doing what we can based on impartial data,” he said. “In our political discourse, there’s too much dogma and not enough data. You can’t run a business based on political dogma. And that’s why I like being a member of Small Business Minnesota, because we are the type of organization that is very much driven by data.”

Martinson continued to say that sentiment to note that the group’s priorities rest in supporting initiatives that reflect needs of the small business community in Minnesota.

“We felt, often times, the real interests of small business were being traded off a little bit against other types of business,” he said. “That’s why we felt so strongly that what we really needed was our own voice.”

 

Contact Brian Rosemeyer at [email protected]