More Minnesotans turning to entrepreneurship in recessionby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Bemidji, Minn. — Sandy Henson lost her job five years ago, along with more than 100 others permanently laid off when the Ainsworth lumber mill in Bemidji shut down one of its production lines.
Now, Henson is running her own business. It's called Glazed and Amused. Henson opened the do-it-yourself ceramic studio four years ago in downtown Bemidji.
She's among thousands of Minnesotans who took risks by borrowing money - or even spending their own savings - to become entrepreneurs, even as many others tightened their belts during the recession.
For Henson, becoming an entrepreneur was a big gamble. She'd put in nearly 20 years as a fork lift operator for Ainsworth and rolled her entire retirement nest egg into financing her business.
"It was scary," she said. "I sat a couple of times thinking, 'What did I get myself into?'"
Over the past four years, the Secretary of State's office recorded more than a quarter of a million new business filings. That's up 16 percent from the previous four years. Business filings in 2009 showed the largest one-year gain since 2002.
Across the United States, the number of new entrepreneurs grew by seven percent between 2007 and 2009, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation.
Minnesota doesn't track how many of its new business filings actually become established companies. But some educators in Minnesota say it's is clear that more people are interested in running their own business.
Rebecca Best, dean of workforce, economic and regional development at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, sees a wave of potential entrepreneurs.
"They come to get the technical skills," Best said of students at the college, which has seen record enrollment. "But ultimately, with a lot of our students, their goal is to own and run their own business.
In each of the past few years, the Small Business Development Center in Brainerd has helped close to 200 people seeking advice on how to start new businesses. Center Director Greg Bergman said what's notable is that more of those people than ever before are unemployed.
The recession has created unique obstacles for would-be entrepreneurs, Bergman said. Before the recession, banks were more freely loaning money for start-ups. Now, the lending market is tight.
Lower property values also mean potential entrepreneurs have less access to equity capital.
"Some start short of the cash they really should have, and that can get them into trouble pretty quickly," Bergman said.
The state's dislocated worker program has a new tool to help some entrepreneurs. Minnesota is one of four states participating in a pilot project called Growing America Through Entrepreneurship, a program that helps dislocated workers age 45 or older who are interested in starting a business. It provides an in-depth business readiness assessment and training.
Diana McLain is among more than 500 dislocated workers who've participated in the program since it started in 2009. McLain, 56, lost her job as an engineer with a pharmaceutical company in Baudette. Now she's launching her own energy consulting business.
"Going out on my own to do consulting is a bit intimidating," McLain said. "One of the things I know I have to do is sell myself, and now I've got to step out and really become a salesman."
A study by the Federal Reserve shows that more than half of new businesses will fail within the first five years. But the study found that businesses started during recessions are no more likely to fail than those started during good economic times.
Henson, who doesn't yet have any employees, hopes her business will grow. For now, she's grateful the venture survived one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.
"I just can't believe I've done this," she said. "I'm just sometimes amazed, you know. It's like I just went on the theory of good karma and hard work."
- All Things Considered, 02/28/2011, 5:54 p.m.