PHOTO  BY SARAH WHITING
PHOTO BY SARAH WHITING

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I bought the Amore coffee shop in 2001. As a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association in St. Paul, and then its president, I wanted the group to become more than a marketing arm. I wanted to leverage business owner participation in support of promoting small 

environmental footprints and pro-small-business legislative policies. A few decades ago the big box and deep pocket lobbyists were the only lobbying voice in town. 

With a group of other small business owners, we formed the MetroIBA. Our membership consists of businesses that have at least 51 percent ownership by an individual, based in the seven-country metro area of Anoka, Ramsey, Hennepin, Washington, Dakota, Scott, and Carver Counties.

The group has accomplished great things because of its collaborative nature. One of the things I am most proud of is that our political figures — local and at the legislative level — actually ask what we think and make policies that try to level the playing field for small businesses in our area. It is good that they are aware of us, and our struggles, as a collective voice. Local business accounts for 90 percent of new job creation, according to the Minnesota House Research Service. 

For most small-business owners, there is a pricing challenge. A retailer like Walmart or Amazon, that buys more from a manufacturer, will get a better price. If you promise a million-piece order, that business can ask for a widget priced at $2 that will be marked up to $4. Most small-business owners, on the other hand, cannot even buy that widget for as little as $4. So, matching on price is simply a path to bankruptcy for a small-business owner. 

Yet, matching on service, from a local, independent business that knows your name — no one does it better! In the coffee business, for example, it is hard to roast a large batch of coffee beans with the same consistency as small batches. So our strength as a small business is that we can produce a more consistent product for our customers

I try to use local, independent businesses. They cannot get the products I need at the cheapest price, and I know how important it is for them to make a profit so they can stay in business. That is why I pay a bit more, and why my customers have to pay a bit more. 

I think every small, independent business owner should be a member of a local organization like ours. There IS strength in numbers.

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