Programs available to help businesses sell outside of Alpena

ALPENA — For a small business to reach its full potential, it needs to find a way to break out of its local market and expand to other areas around the state, nation and globe, officials said Friday.

During the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Alpena Breakfast on Friday at Art in the Loft, local business leaders were updated on programs and tools that can help them do just that.

Lisa Diggs, the founder of Buy Michigan Now, talked about how important it is for small businesses to market and sell their product online. She said only 52% of small businesses in the nation have websites.

“That number is dramatically low, when you consider the world we live in now,” Diggs said. “If your business doesn’t have one you have to think about having one made. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it legitimizes your business. There are a lot of people who look for a website and, if there isn’t one, they question the validity of the business.”

Michigan Economic Development Corp. International Trade Manager Chris Bosio talked about the Export Assistance Program and how state grants can help small business with things such as having a website designed and made.

“Every business that already exports qualify for a $15,000 grant, which is a big deal for small businesses,” Bosio said. “There are many services we offer to help get your product or services out there.”

Molly Stepanski is the co-owner of Presque Isle Farms and local food coordinator for Taste the Local Difference, which markets local foods and connects local growers and producers with customers throughout the state. She said more small businesses utilize food grown or produced locally. Through the efforts of Taste the Local difference, she anticipates more will do so in the future.

“We can all make a choice for what we buy, food-wise, which impacts our local economy and state economy,” she said. “If every Michigander decided to spend $10 each week on local food, as opposed to shopping at places like Walmart, where the food is shipped in from Mexico, it would add between $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion into the economy each year.”

Pure Michigan Business Connect Data and Strategy Manager Colin Dillon explained the role the Pure Michigan program can take to help spur more sales for local small businesses and Chamber Economic Development Director Jim Klarich provided an update on the local housing market, which he described as increasing significantly in value.