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EDITORIAL: A valentine to small businesses

Small businesses are the heartbeat of vibrant communities.

Without small businesses providing jobs and an economic punch, Douglas County wouldn't be the growing, healthy and multifaceted region it is today. We're fortunate to have a local economy that doesn't rely upon just one or two major employers. We have a mixture of industries — manufacturing, health care, tourism, retail, agriculture, professional services, hospitality, construction and more. Because of this diversity, our area is able to get through economic downturns better than communities with only a limited number of employers.

And our area is a leading force in many industries — serving as examples of successful business practices and strategies. The winter publication of Enterprise Minnesota, for instance, spotlighted the Aagard Group, LLC, an Alexandria company that designs, engineers and makes automated packaging machinery.

Aagard is addressing staffing challenges by investing in its supervisors, providing skills not only to its frontline workers but to those who lead that line, the magazine noted. "Successful companies like Aagard are investing in their people," said Rick Kvasager, a business development advisor at Enterprise Minnesota. "The objective is to help supervisors develop a well-trained workforce and provide proper training to help people do their jobs effectively."

Aagard is among more than 4,600 companies that call the Alexandria area home. We should take a little time to appreciate them. Last week, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Minneota District sent out a news release listing 10 reasons why small businesses deserve a valentine:

• Small businesses support their Main Streets. The 510,000 small businesses in Minnesota are in nearly every neighborhood in the state.

• They provide opportunities. Small businesses make up 99.5 percent of all Minnesota employers.

• They create jobs. Two out of every three new jobs created in the U.S. are from small businesses.

• They offer unique items and services. Many small businesses craft their own products or feature those of other local entrepreneurs, such as artists, farmers and bakers, providing you a gift like no other for yourself or your special someone.

• They grow the global economy — 86.9 percent of Minnesota exporters are small firms.

• They change the world. Companies such as 23andMe, Apple, Ben & Jerry's, Costco, Nike, Intel and Whole Foods all started small and have led the way of new ideas across industries.

• They employ nearly half the workforce. Small businesses in Minnesota employed 1.2 million people in the state's private workforce in 2016.

• They support families. Approximately one in five small businesses are family-owned.

• They create opportunities for flexible work and lifestyles. Home-based businesses account approximately half of all small businesses.

• They inspire us. Small business owners work countless hours, sacrifice their personal time and assets, improve their communities, drive innovation and follow their dreams.

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