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SBDC offers free consulting

Local businesses have marketing, HR, bookkeeping assistance
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Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) received federal CARES Act funding to expand their technical assistance services to local businesses as they respond to and operate through the COVID-19 pandemic. Northland SBDC launched its Subject Matter Expert program to provide additional no-cost marketing, human resources and bookkeeping assistance to small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) was signed into law in March 2020. It was designed to provide aid through a variety of programs to large and small businesses, industries, individuals, families, gig workers, independent contractors, and hospitals.

Loonies Coffee Shop on Chestnut Street in downtown Virginia was one of the businesses that utilized the SBDC CARES Act resources. Loonies opened for business IN January 2021 amidst the pandemic and offers indoor and takeout service of coffee, wood fire pizza, sandwiches, soup, quiche, and pastries.

Loonies is owned by Cassandra Hainey, Jeff Zupetz, and Allen Lewis who met in the Blandin Leadership program three years ago. All have full-time jobs in the Virginia area and joined together to launch Loonies. Hainey is the executive director for Volunteers in Education (VinE). Zupetz is an emotional behavior disorders teacher at Northland Learning Center. Lewis is the fire chief at Virginia Fire Department.

“Following the Blandin program, Jeff, Allen and I met to discuss how to implement in our community what we learned,” said Hainey. “We shared a common interest in strengthening mental health resources, and the concept of Loonies was born. We decided to open a downtown coffee shop to bring people together and use some of the profits to fund nonprofits connected to mental health services.”

Loonies donates 10 percent of its profits to local nonprofits that work to reduce the stigma and increase access to mental health services in the Quad Cities. United Way of Northeastern Minnesota’s United for Veterans was chosen as the nonprofit recipient for proceeds during the first quarter of 2021. United for Veterans provides resources, including mental health assistance to local veterans.

Hainey and her partners met Betsy Olivanti at the Blandin program. Olivanti is the SBDC regional consultant and provides technical support to local businesses (existing and startups) such as business plan development, feasibility and financial analysis, market research, advertising and sales, loan packaging, strategic planning, accounting systems, and e-commerce. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) provided a Development Partnership grant to Northland Foundation to support an SBDC representative located on the Iron Range.

“We called on Betsy to help us with the start-up and take our idea to reality,” said Hainey. “She gave us so much support, technical advice, and connected us to key people, local grant programs and services specifically designated to help small businesses. She had the connections and knowledge we needed to launch Loonies. When starting a small business, there is no official checklist to follow. Betsy made sure we did not miss a step.”

Loonies has one full-time and five part-time employees. It is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. and on Saturdays as of March 20. See Loonies featured menu items and order online at www.looniescoffee.com.

“While the SBDC has maintained a local presence since the early 2000s with expertise to assist small businesses at no charge, we added additional consultants with specific expertise to assist small businesses throughout the pandemic, due to the CARES Act funding,” said Olivanti. “We want every Iron Range small business owner to access this assistance if they need it.”

Small business owners who would like no-cost assistance in marketing, human resources and/or bookkeeping can sign up for services at www.northlandsbdc.org to connect with a local consultant. The website also contains success stories of northeastern Minnesota businesses that have utilized SBDC.

For Development Partnership grant information, email Whitney Ridlon (whitney.ridlon@state. mn.us) at Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation or call her at 218-735-3004.

Note: Loonies also utilized a Business Energy Retrofit (BER) grant and city of Virginia Downtown Redevelopment grant. Both grant programs are funded by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and administered by AEOA and the city of Virginia, respectively.

Source: The Ranger, a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

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