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GUEST COLUMN: Small Business Tools Encourage Economic Development

By State Sen. Randy Head (R – Logansport)

With the national economic downturn, businesses and households alike reexamined their finances to adjust to the challenging times. Small businesses seemed to be hit the hardest, and some were forced to close their doors.

In light of the recession, Indiana has renewed and revamped its ongoing efforts to spur economic growth. Following new legislation aimed at promoting job creation and business development, Indiana was named Best in the Midwest in Area Development magazine’s “Top States for Doing Business in 2011.” Our low corporate income and property tax rates, pro-jobs tax credits, right-to-work status and AAA credit rating all work together to attract companies to the area. Indiana also has no inventory tax rate and the nation’s second largest motor vehicle industry, and the state ranks second in the U.S. for foreign direct investment per capita.

To further boost job creation in Indiana, several organizations have created a variety of tools to assist growing companies and prospective employers. Small businesses are the beginning of every great industry, and encouraging their development is crucial to seeing our economy flourish.

The Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) currently offers a variety of online tools and resources for entrepreneurs to learn how to start and manage companies. Additionally, there are local offices that assist entrepreneurs face-to-face and host events throughout the year. According to its website, the ISBDC helped clients create approximately 2,098 jobs, start 266 businesses and increase sales by $53 million in 2011.

As part of its mission, ISBDC frequently partners with private employers. One such partner, Google, recently launched Indiana Get Your Business Online, providing small businesses with free website building training, tools and resources. According to Google, 53 percent of small businesses in Indiana do not have a website, but 97 percent of consumers look online for information on local products and services. By creating a platform for small businesses to form an online presence, Indiana Get Your Business Online encourages economic growth and connects customers to new companies.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is another organization committed to assisting local employers. One of the IEDC’s most important initiatives is the Young Entrepreneur Program, created by the General Assembly in 2011 to assist new employers in making their business plans a reality. The IEDC works with local governments to provide incentives for selected young entrepreneurs with outstanding business plans, including free rent, grants, loans and utility support. In turn, young entrepreneurs agree to locate their business in the community and remain there for a specified length of time. Eligible applicants for this program are either current college students or alumni who have graduated within the last three years. This program not only encourages economic development through new businesses but also provides a channel for young people to carry out their professional goals.

The IEDC also provides the Skills Enhancement Fund (SEF) for businesses committed to training their workforce. SEF reimburses training expenses over a two-year term, allowing employers with new capital investments to create and retain jobs in Indiana. Given that small businesses start from scratch when they open up shop, SEF provides new companies with more room to grow and prosper, even in difficult economic times.

With the numerous resources Indiana provides business owners, I am confident our state will continue to see positive economic development. I encourage small business owners to take advantage of these resources to create a strong foundation for commercial development. The future of Indiana’s economy will depend on how we support our growing industries, and I look forward to pushing for new legislation to do that during the upcoming legislative session.