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Business info network now online

Have a question about unemployment insurance, workers comp, international trade, letting an employee go or getting a business off the ground?

Business owners - large and small - can now access a resource center online at, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce site holding a searchable database as well as addressing specific individual questions.

The Minnesota Chamber business assistance and referral network was developed in 2008 and underwent a year of testing before being officially launched this month.

There are three ways to make a query, via keyword or topic, sending a question via e-mail at the site or by calling BusinessConnection at 888-646-6249.

In the event of a local question - zoning, for example - businesses will be referred to the local Chamber.

"We don't want any business to be shy," Minnesota Chamber senior vice president Bill Blazar said. "We are open to all."

And the info is available 24/7, he pointed out of the online database. "If a question comes up at 8 p.m. Sunday, the answer is there.

"We want people to err on the side of asking," he said. "Call or e-mail. We'll go to work on finding the answer."

The idea began to gel about seven years ago when Chamber representatives traveled to Minnesota communities to discuss business retention.

The representatives called on about 900 businesses to say thank you for doing business in Minnesota, Blazar said. The reps asked how the Chamber might assist their endeavors.

One in seven businesses asked questions, Blazar said, unfamiliar with how to navigate available resources.

"And that was 900 out of 100,000 businesses" in the state, he said.

"We concluded there was a boatload of businesses with questions out there," he said. "Minnesota has a wonderful array of resources, but most companies are unaware of what's out there."

That, he said, is due in part to lack of organization. "So we decided to launch an automated service."

The Minnesota Chamber's Grow Minnesota! and Department of Employment and Economic Development received a grant from the McKnight Foundation to develop the system, which was tested in 13 communities.

The partnership with DEED was to assist in navigating state agencies, Blazar explained.

Questions on starting a business, for example, will direct the inquirer to the Secretary of State's site, holding step-by-step instructions for establishing an enterprise.

BusinessConnection is geared to a business of one up to corporations the size of 3M, he said.

"Our goal is for businesses to do well and expand," Blazar said of the initiative.