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NEW Minnesota State COVID-19 Relief Package Passed 12/15/20

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials

The Minnesota Senate and House passed a state COVID-19 relief package.  The bill, SF 31, provides financial assistance to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and executive orders, extends unemployment insurance benefits and extends the deadline for free or reduced-price lunch applications.

Here is a summary of the relief provisions:

  • Business Relief Payments:  $88 million

$88 million will be distributed in grants to “qualified businesses” which were closed to the general public through Executive Order 20-99 (attached) – the most recent order closing certain businesses.  These businesses include restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries, wineries, fitness and recreational sports centers, bowling centers, and specialty food stores.  Businesses must show a 30% decline in sales for the year, have a physical presence in Minnesota and meet other qualifications listed in the bill.  If qualified, the Minnesota Department of Revenue will distribute grants to businesses ranging from $10,000 to a maximum of $45,000.

  • Movie Theater and Convention Center Grants: $14 million

$9 million will be distributed in grants to movie theaters with indoor seating and $5 million will be distributed to with regional or statewide significance and a capacity of 1,500 or more.  These grants must be used for the direct operations and upkeep of convention center facilities.

  • County Relief Grants to Local Businesses:  $114.8 million

Funds will be distributed to all 87 counties on a per capita basis and the county will provide relief grants to local businesses.  The intention of this grant fund is to give flexibility to counties to make grants to individual businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and business closures, but may not have met the strict guidelines in the previous grant categories.

  • Unemployment Insurance Benefits Extension

Extends unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks to April 20, 2021.  Over 112,000 Minnesotans will be impacted by this provision.

  • Regulatory Relief

Several regulatory relief provisions are included in the bill including waiver of the caterer’s permit fees, permit fees for sales after 1:00 a.m., refund of the wastewater permit fees for brewers, and waiver of late fees for license renewals by food retailers, food manufacturers, food wholesalers, and food brokers.

  • Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Deadline Extension

The bill grants an extension of the deadline for school districts to report the number of pupils enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program.

River Heights Chamber of Commerce Taking Transitions to a Whole New Level – New Interim Chamber President Named

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials

Inver Grove Heights/South St. Paul – The River Heights Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce that Colleen Murphy Roth has been named Interim President by the Board of Directors and commenced her role officially on June 15, 2020.

Colleen has been employed with the River Heights Chamber for two and a half years as the Director of Membership Development which has provided a solid building block for this transition. Previously, she worked in development with various nonprofits in the Twin Cities. Colleen also currently serves as the VP of Squirts for District 8 of MN Hockey.

The transition of roles came after former River Heights Chamber President, Jennifer Gale, announced that after 16 years of service she made the difficult decision to resign from the position and move to the private sector. Jennifer stated, “I wish to thank the Board members, both present and past, the membership for investing in the River Heights Chamber during my tenure and to the community leaders who have partnered with the Chamber to make our community a great place to live, work and play. I take great pride in the staff and the work plans we accomplished together to solidify the Chamber as the premier local advocate for business. It has been my greatest pleasure serving our business community and I am blessed to have had the chance to work with, learn from, and partner with the amazing leaders in the River Heights community.”

Colleen is excited for the challenges that lie ahead with the ever-changing business landscape and is committed to continuing to position the River Heights Chamber of Commerce as the premier resource for business in the community.

At a planning conference in November of 2019, the Board put together a work plan for 2020. Even with COVID-19, the Chamber has made a lot of initiatives into a new way of doing business in our regions.

Some highlights include:

• FOCUS ON DEMOGRAPHIC CLUSTERING – We have structured Chamber programming on demographic clusters to position the Chamber to be out front of the needs of incoming or elevating demographic subsets. Group involvement and participation is hardwired, regardless of the generational angst we feel in any given decade. We have an innate need to belong. Through weekly webinars we are providing programming in specific categories such as working from home, investments, tourism, retail, real estate, legal, HR and managerial staffing. We have seen more levels of staff participating because of the variation in our new virtual programming.

• INVEST IN TECHNOLOGICAL COMMUNICATION – Chambers are small business enterprises and, as such, must try to keep up with members and the world at large. Interpersonal connectivity and human relationships, especially if enhanced and maintained through electronic channels, will have more impact than ever. The River Heights Chamber has utilized platforms such as Facebook Live, Zoom and Microsoft Teams for meetings and group communications and events. The information availability has opened to members and community leaders that possibly couldn’t attend before.

• BRIDGE THE POLITICAL FRAGMENTATION Chambers have the potential to employ their considerable consensus-building experience and position of trust to provide workable alternatives to fringe dogma and out-of-hand dismissal of compromise. The Chamber acts as the convener of those who can find solutions, resources and political will. Articulating shared values, rather than divisive talking points, will be needed more than ever in the coming decade. The Chamber moderated a town hall meeting with Rep. Craig this spring to discuss the PPP and EIDL Small Business Loan programs. The Chamber has worked with our state legislators on all sides to secure additional unemployment, grants and state loans to assist local businesses in the pandemic. We are also working with the local governments to relax city ordinances while keeping in line with state policy to assist businesses in reopening in a safe, yet profitable, way. The River Heights Chamber of Commerce has positioned itself well in the middle and is advocating on behalf of all business in the community, regardless of political preference.

We invite businesses and the community to learn more about the resources and benefits the River Heights Chamber has to offer and see how we can help you during this challenging time by visiting our website at www.riverheights.com or contacting our Chamber staff. Colleen can still be reached at the River Heights Chamber at colleen@riverheights.com.

Working Together to Keep the Economy Moving Forward

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials, Marketing

By Doug Loon, Minnesota Chamber and Jennifer Gale, River Heights Chamber of Commerce

Every employer and employee feels the unprecedented impact of COVID-19. Those of us in the network of state and local chambers, like the River Heights Chamber of Commerce, would like to thank employers and employees throughout Minnesota for navigating this crisis to mitigate the health impacts and keep our state moving forward. And if you are a business that is currently struggling or confused about the resources available to you, reach out to us. We can help- visit our business resources page at https://riverheights.com/covid19/.

Businesses are innovating and leveraging available resources.
Minnesota is blessed with a landscape of innovative companies and skilled workers. Employers and employees are continuing to find ways to work safely, keep essential operations open, meet customer demands and protect critical supply chains. Most impressive, companies are showing their ingenuity to transform operations almost overnight to supply products and services critical to bringing this pandemic under control.

Chambers of Commerce share the goal of ensuring a healthy business community and economy. The stakes are higher today, and our efforts are escalated as we fight this pandemic. We are working tirelessly for our members – listening to their needs and responding in their best interest.

Chambers are bringing businesses together.
Your local and state chambers work with businesses of every type, size and industry, and in every corner of the state. By listening to the needs of our members, we are able to make connections between challenges and solutions – during this crisis and long afterward.  The River Heights Chamber has been sharing critical information to keep the business community abreast of the latest resources/tips/programs available to them, creating webinars and virtual events (like the Small Business Award Celebration on April 23 at 2:00 pm) to keep businesses informed and communicating with one another, as well as sharing the accomplishments and needs of its business members within the local community.

Chambers are advocating for employers and employees.
Minnesotans’ health and safety are paramount concerns for all of us. We share the goal of our elected officials to reduce the spread of the virus and simultaneously protect the long-term strength of the private-sector economy. It’s a delicate balance, and we have worked with legislators, and Governor Walz and his administration to make decisions with this balance in mind.

Chambers are speeding resources and assistance to keep communities thriving.
Every company is impacted by the state and federal directives related to COVID-19. Those deemed essential are doing what they can to keep shelves stocked and meet customer demands. If they were required to close their physical doors, many are continuing remotely or pivoting their operations. This was not their choice, but they are reviewing every funding option available to continue to make payroll, or act in good faith on behalf of their employees to keep their businesses open while mitigating health impacts.

The twists and turns of the pandemic are changing daily. Your chambers of commerce provide timely and trusted information to navigate this crisis. We know businesses are looking for funding and resources to mitigate this crisis. Your state and local chambers are here to help you navigate the various options and maximize the benefit for your business and employees. Our offices may be closed due to the “stay at home” order, but we are only a phone call or email away.

Businesses contribute to our shared quality of life in Minnesota. Generations-owned family companies and new entrepreneurial start-ups are equally important parts of our community’s and state’s story. The remarkable response of employers and employees everywhere is evidence that Minnesotans are well-prepared to weather this pandemic storm. Working together, we will position Minnesota to return to full productivity and full employment as soon as possible.

For more information, visit the River Heights Chamber of Commerce website at www.riverheights.com.

Annual Small Business Award & Trade Show Going Virtual

Nicole Bengtson
Business Ideas, Editorials, Event News, Marketing

Dear River Heights Business Community,

We are all feeling the pain from this worldwide pandemic in different ways. The River Heights Chamber is here to assist your business in any way possible; we remain committed to supporting you during these challenging times.

Our small businesses are a critical piece of our community, and as such, the Chamber is moving forward to bring you the Small Business Award and Trade Show virtually, to honor and recognize our Small Business of the Year and the importance of small businesses in our community.

Our 2020 Virtual Small Business Award and Trade Show will be held on Thursday, April 23 at 2:00 pm via a Zoom Webinar and is FREE to attend. Chamber Chairman, Adam Bengtson, will facilitate the 2020 Small Business Award Celebration and Best Selling Author of Outperform the Norm, Scott Welle, will share strategies used by high achievers to take your game to the next level, especially during this unique time. And for the grand finale, be there LIVE for the announcement and to honor the 2020 Small Business of the Year and watch their video during this webinar! You don’t want to miss it!

The Trade Show component is a popular piece to this event. All members are invited to participate in the Trade Show which will remain online, viewable and shareable through the end of the year. For only $35, a business can share its logo, messaging and/or a video to the Virtual Trade Show. This is an opportunity to be creative and interact as if it were sharing your business at a LIVE trade show. For example, you can include a link to download and print a coupon to be used at a later date or bring in the coupon for a free giveaway. The sky is the limit!

Click HERE to register for the Virtual Trade Show

This event is supported by our generous sponsors, Town Square Television, Enbridge Energy, Minnesota Vikings Football, LLC, Microtel Inn & Suites By Wyndham and DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton Downtown St. Paul.

Register in advance for the 2020 Small Business Award Celebration here!

Important Information from the Governor

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials, Event News, Marketing

March 25, 2020

Dear Members,

This afternoon, MN Governor Tim Walz issued an Executive Order directing Minnesotans to Stay at Home and limit movement outside of their homes beyond essential needs for two weeks.
Stay at Home Executive Order Effective Friday, March 27th from 11:59 pm to Friday, April 10th. #StayHomeMN

The closures of bars, restaurants and other public accommodations are extended to May 1st at 5 pm.
This Executive Order authorizes the Commissioner of Education to implement a Distant Learning period beginning on March 30th until May 4th.

Minnesotans may leave their home to perform essential duties and are asked to maintain social distancing.

Workers who provide critical services to the people of MN at this time are exempt. The exemptions are based on federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the US Department of Homeland Security with some Minnesota- specific additions. This includes but is not limited to jobs in:

– Healthcare and public health
– Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders
– Child care
– Food and agriculture
– News media
– Energy
– Water and wastewater
– Critical manufacturing

The River Heights Chamber of Commerce will continue to be a voice of reason, sharing factual information as it becomes available and we will work tirelessly to advocate for and support our local businesses and communities.

We will be funneling information down to you through our website and social media channels.  The RHCC Members Only Facebook group, the River Heights Chamber Facebook page, our COVID-19 webpage that offers info from our partners, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, DEED and other useful resources.  We are also updating our Facebook page with announcements and opportunities to support our businesses during these challenging times.


Adam Bengtson, 2020 Chairman, River Heights Chamber of Commerce

How the River Heights Chamber is Responding to COVID-19

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials, Marketing

March 23, 2020

Dear Chamber Members,

It has been a hard couple weeks to be in leadership, and I imagine for most of you, it’s been a hard couple weeks to be a business owner or employee, a school administrator, a government official, a parent, a student, a friend. What we are currently experiencing is definitely new territory for all of us.

First and foremost, I want to assure you that the River Heights Chamber of Commerce will continue to be a voice of reason, sharing factual information as it becomes available and we will work tirelessly to advocate for and support our local businesses and communities. We will be funneling information down to you through our website here from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, DEED and other useful resources and partners. Last week, we compiled a list of local restaurants, coffee shops & bars, and food establishments who are offering take-out and deliveries (email Colleen with your information or updates), River Heights Region Restaurant & Food Guide.

We will continue to update events (cancelations & virtual events, etc…) and job postings to our website and social media.

We encourage you to come to the social media table with gratitude and positivity. Why? Because we need to band together as businesses and community to support one another.
What can you do?

  • Post your business doing some random act of kindness
  • Highlight your staff or a product we can learn about
  • Share fun facts or historical anecdotes about your business
  • Shout out to another local business

We are in this together. If you have any suggestions for the River Heights Chamber, feel free to email us. We may not have the answer, but we can listen. I am so proud of the measures so many of you are taking already to adapt and showcase leadership to those around you.

With Admiration,

Adam Bengtson, 2020 Chairman of the Board of Directors
& Jennifer Gale, President, River Heights Chamber of Commerce

Chamber Federation Launches Legislative Agenda – River Heights Businesses Speak Out

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials

The River Heights Chamber reached out to members to hear their challenges to growing jobs in Minnesota – here are what a couple of them said and more from Minnesota Chamber President, Doug Loon, on the Chamber Federation’s Legislative policies.

Mar 2, 2020
By Chamber President Doug Loon

Strike up a conversation with any business owner on the challenges to growing jobs in Minnesota, and the themes ring familiar.

High taxes hinder growth. Access to quality health care at an affordable price. The increasing number of government-mandates on employee benefits. Shortage of skilled workers.

Businesses of all types and sizes feel these stresses. Job-creators across the state hold their collective breath as the 2020 Legislature gets underway. Listen to those on the front lines as we seek ways to lessen these headwinds and create economic opportunity for all Minnesotans.

St. Cloud and River Heights are among the 40-plus members of the Minnesota Chamber Federation, which unites and amplifies the voice of local chambers by advocating for policies to grow business in every corner of the state. Together with the Minnesota Chamber, the Federation is launching its 2020 agenda as the Legislature gets underway.

Workplace regulations are center stage for St. Cloud businesses, says Teresa Bohnen, president of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. Among their concerns is the broad wage theft law that, among other things, penalizes employers for unintentional payroll errors. “It seemed like the wage theft law sailed through last year without much consideration of the unintended consequences. Now we are requiring all businesses to absorb additional costs related to excessive paperwork and compliance to regulations that the vast majority of them were already following.”

The Federation will pursue modifications in the wage theft law.

We also continue to oppose “one size fits all” state mandates that limit employers’ ability to design competitive benefit packages for their employees. The patchwork of local mandates is cited in Inver Grove Heights. “Many small businesses don’t just work in one community,” says Brenda Dietrich, co-owner of Hardline Concrete & Masonry. “When cities make their own legislation, such as mandating wages and benefits, it is a hindrance to small businesses.”

Kari Rihm, president and chief executive of Rihm Family Companies, underscores the most widespread difficulty facing businesses: Finding workers. “Too few people are going into trades, and too many people are retiring from them.” she says. “It’s no secret. Businesses will be stymied if they can’t hire enough experienced, skilled workers.” The Federation continues to seek systemic reforms to raise all student achievement, ensuring every high school graduate is ready for postsecondary education or a career.

Local employer concerns resonate with Jennifer Gale, president of the River Heights Chamber. “We need to align our state’s legislative policies with our desire to keep Minnesota competitive,” she says. “Local chambers can work side by side with our legislators to connect them with business owners who know firsthand the everyday challenges.”

Conforming Minnesota law with the federal Section 179 tax code tops our tax agenda to allow immediate expensing equipment purchases. Rounding out our priorities are requiring a cost-benefit analysis as part of any proposal to add insurance mandates to state law and supporting environmental policies that drive private investment in Minnesota while helping employers reduce environmental impacts.

Federation partners have collectively advanced employer priorities for more than a decade; they represent 43 communities and 21,000-plus businesses.

If you want to be in the know – and lend your collective voice to help improve the lives of all Minnesotans – I encourage you to become a member of your local chamber or the Minnesota Chamber. Sign up for email updates throughout the legislative session to keep abreast of what is happening at the Capitol.

As one employer, your voice can be a whisper. Combine it with hundreds of others, and your voice becomes a roar.

A Guide to Opening or Expanding a Business… In the City of Inver Grove Heights

Nicole Bengtson
Business Ideas, Editorials, Marketing

Do you have a business idea? Have you wondered where to even start when considering to open your own business or expand to a new area? Look no further if you are considering Inver Grove Heights!  Together, Progress Plus, the economic development foundation of the River Heights Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Inver Grove Heights made “A Guide to Opening or Expanding a Business… In the City of Inver Grove Heights” just for you!

Please feel free to contact us at Progress Plus if you have any questions on your business journey, economic development search or when using this guide.

Click on the image below or here to download the PDF of this Guide for Inver Grove Heights

The information presented in this guide book is provided for the convenience of the reader. While every effort has been made to ensure that all presented information is accurate at the time it is published, the City of Inver Grove Heights and the River Heights Chamber of Commerce cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information presented herein.

A guide to opening or expanding a business in the City of Inver Grove Heights, MN

Dakota County Commissioner Voter Guides

Nicole Bengtson
Advocacy & Public Policy, Business Ideas, Editorials

2018 Dakota County Commissioner Candidates

The following questions were developed and used from the 2018 Election Candidate Questionnaire and East Metro Voters Guide. 

Kathleen Gaylord

Bio: I am the Chair of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners. I am an attorney/partner in the law firm of Weinblatt & Gaylord in Inver Grove Heights and the former Senior Corporate Counsel for Northwest Airlines. I am also the former Executive Director of the Minnesota Tax Study Commission where I built the first computer simulation of Minnesota’s property tax system and was instrumental in bringing “Circuit Breaker” property tax relief to Minnesota. Tens of thousands of Dakota County residents have received tax refunds from the Minnesota Property Tax Refund and Renters Credit that evolved from my work.

I am also the former Mayor of South St. Paul. I have over 30 years of public policy experience leading local, regional, state, and national organizations with the skills and experience to deliver smart, creative solutions and real results.

I attended Macalester College as a math major, earned a B.A. degree in economics Magna Cum Laude and continued my post-graduate studies in Business Taxation and Public Administration at the University of Minnesota before earning my Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law.

What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how would you address it?

Two of the communities in my district are struggling financially. I have recognized that challenge and have worked to keep county taxes as low as possible to help residents already burdened by high city taxes. I have also stepped up to offer a wide range of county services to benefit these communities and sought out grant and funding strategies to help them with trails, road improvements, wetlands restoration and economic development.

What would be your top three priorities if elected?

  1. Addressing the challenges we face with smart, creative solutions.
  2. Maintaining our high-quality services and our leadership in controlling county property taxes.
  3. Listening to all voices and building coalitions and partnerships to move the county forward.

What do you believe are the most essential services provided by county government?

Dakota County provides 225 programs and services to county residents, including record keeping, emergency services, veterans services, public safety, public health, elections, transportation, parks and libraries… but the most essential services are the human services provided by community and social services. These services include child protection, emergency assistance, food supports, housing and economic assistance, and other safety net services.

Todd Podgorski

Bio: I have been fortunate to serve South St. Paul as a two-term City Council Member and a one-term School Board Member. On the City Council, I supported and helped lead our voter-approved parks and Doug Woog arena improvement bond referendum. I am also proud to have supported hiring two additional police officers and a Sgt during my time on the Council. Working on the South St. Paul Economic Development Authority to assist with economic development and job growth, has been a highlight. While I was on the School Board I helped support a voter-approved operating levy that helped us reduce class sizes, improve discipline with having a planning room at the H.S., and having all-day kindergarten with no fee years before the state covered the full cost.

I earn a living as a peace officer in one of the state’s largest and most diverse counties. As a peace officer for over 20 years, I understand the importance of public safety. My background as a long time CIT-Crisis Intervention Trained officer dealing with mental health emergencies gives me a unique understanding of our shortage of mental health and chemical dependency treatment options.

What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how would you address it?

There are many important issues facing our district. I am passionate about keeping our community safe and believe the County has not done enough to help with our district’s crime concerns. With 4,900 active criminal warrants in Dakota County we need a dedicated warrant apprehension team to help bring justice to victims. We also need to better serve people in our community who have mental health and or chemical dependency concerns. We can better serve these people by providing supportive 16 bed or smaller treatment centers.

What would be your top three priorities if elected?

  1. Enhancing public safety and health.
  2. Improving roads and infrastructure.
  3. Fostering job creation, economic development and housing options.

What do you believe are the most essential services provided by county government?

Public safety and health. Roads and infrastructure.


November Business Lunch Focuses its Menu on Drug Trends

Nicole Bengtson
Business Ideas, Editorials, Event News, Marketing

Food for Thought, Business Luncheon Open to the Public

Inver Grove Heights, MN (October 23, 2018) – The River Heights Chamber of Commerce started its new business luncheon series, Food for Thought, when it launched their new brand in August, with the purpose to include all area businesses, not only Chamber members, in a once a month event. The River Heights Chamber is about working together and building relationships – businesses [all of us] benefit when we work together and know what’s going on in our community, so we [the Chamber] want to gather more businesses and leaders from the community together for an hour and a half on a monthly basis. “It is one of our Board’s goals to emphasize the Chamber’s inclusivity, so to have a welcome forum open to the public (businesses, schools, individuals) that will feature various business-related topics and speakers for the community to collaborate, network and learn from one another, each month, is a great initiative,” says Chairman Brenda Dietrich, co-owner of Hardline Concrete & Masonry.

In November, the River Heights Chamber invites everyone to take part in this important conversation of Drug Trends at the next Food for Thought, on November 20, 2018, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at Evolve Workplace in West St. Paul.

“Everyone with an invested interest in Dakota County should attend this informative business luncheon with an Agent from the Dakota County Drug Task Force,” says Nicole Bengtson, Director of Marketing & Communications of the River Heights Chamber of Commerce. You’ll hear all about the current drug trends (what drug is making a comeback, what drug is still a huge problem, edibles, and more on what looks harmless but may not be), get your questions answered and learn some warning signs to watch for whether that be at school, work, home or in your community.

“Drugs are everywhere, no matter what community you live in. They affect everybody, directly or indirectly,” says the Drug Task Force. Be in the know. Stay safe. Help protect your people and your community. Don’t miss it!

Join us to learn more! Register by Friday, November 16 online at www.riverheights.com or by contacting the River Heights Chamber office at 651.451.2266 ext. 1032. Chamber member ($25) or non-member (business, resident, school leader, parent) ($35).