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Viewpoint: Washington County is open to business

Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove represents south Washington County communities on the Washington County Board.

Washington County is growing rapidly, with both residents and businesses seeking a home in the county. In Washington County, 86 percent of businesses have fewer than 20 employees, and the county has more than 17,000 self-employed businesses. Many of these small businesses are operated in homes and not in a commercial building visible to the community. As county commissioner, it is important to me that we work to create an environment that supports existing businesses and works to foster new businesses. It has been a priority of mine for the county to have a larger role in economic development by working collaboratively with our local government partners.

The Washington County Community Development Authority and Washington County Board of Commissioners launched the Open to Business program. It offers business and financial consultation to residents or businesses in Washington County to achieve their goals. Additionally, they offer small business loans to both existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. If you have questions on how to start a business or want advice on a business issue, please take advantage of this program.

You can learn more about the Open to Business program on the website www.opentobusinessmn.org. Washington County's contact at Open to Business is Tyler Hilsabeck, and he will have office hours in Cottage Grove. You may email questions to him at thilsabeck@mccdmn.org. Washington County is the seventh metro county to join this program to be able to offer this assistance to local small businesses. This exciting program will make entrepreneurs dreams a reality, help retain existing businesses, and grow new businesses in our community.

Open to Business is not the only new economic development program in Washington County. In order to increase the number of shovel-ready sites, a "seed" fund is being proposed. We will work with our local community partners to provide technical assistance to get commercial/industrial properties ready for the market. This collaborative partnership with communities will create jobs and increase the commercial/industrial tax base.

This is the beginning of wonderful economic development partnerships. I would like to explore the possibility of a down payment assistance program for first time homebuyers that purchase a home in Washington County. When families establish roots in a community, it strengthens the whole community.

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at 651-430-6214 or send an email to karla.bigham@co.washington.mn.us. Thank you for allowing me to be your Washington County Commissioner.

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