by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
Most Minnesotans might think of the Secretary of State’s office as the active arm of the elections system in Minnesota.
That is not totally true, since two-thirds of the work conducted by the Secretary of State’s office is devoted to business services. Nearly a third is actually dedicated to elections.
The Secretary of State’s office, a political office currently held by DFLer Mark Ritchie, has constantly been above the curve in adopting new technological advances. That has been the case both in logging business filings and in running the elections systems in Minnesota.
Ritchie is in his second term as Minnesota Secretary of State, and even before him, technological changes were advancing under former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. She is now a state senator and was one of the major promoters of the constitutional amendment on voter identification last year. The amendment failed in the November election.
The Secretary of State’s office is currently in the process of digitizing its record-keeping systems.
“More and more people are using data for companies in good standing,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said citizens of all kinds are using the Secretary of State’s system for consumer protection. Digitizing business filings has also helped connect veterans with job opportunities.
April was reported as another robust month for new business creation in Minnesota, with 5,548 new entity filings reported by the Minnesota Secretary of State.
“With 21,294 total new filings already in 2013, January through April, we are on track to create nearly 64,000 new businesses and associations this year,” Ritchie said. This total is about 5 percent higher than the total of 60,827 in 2012, Ritchie said. A few years ago, the annual number of business filings surpassed only 49,000.
The monthly totals of new filings for the year to-date are 5,519 in January; 4,779 in February; 5,448 in March; and 5,548 in April.
“If we continue at this pace, we will exceed our all-time record of 63,338 new business filings set in 2009,” Ritchie noted. “We continue to outpace other states in our region in new business filings on a per capita basis, reflecting the strong business climate for startups here in Minnesota.”
Ritchie said the Great Recession has been rough on Minnesotans, but the economy seems to be turning around to the positive.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation recently utilized business filing data to connect with veterans for job opportunities.
Duff Consulting LLC, Isanti, Recently completed a 2012-13 report titled Veteran’s Outreach Project. The project proactively sought to increase contracting with veteran-owned businesses. There were 29 identified vet-owned firms at the beginning of the project and currently there are now 69 firms with another 20-30 potentially becoming vet-verified over the next several months. This project was wide-ranging in that it resulted in positive outcomes that are likely to affect many other state and local organizations in the years to come.
“We are always looking for smart people using our data to start a new business, or to enhance a business,” Ritchie said.
The Minnesota Procurement Technical Assistance Center undertook numerous outreach initiatives to communicate with potentially viable, veterans-owned businesses. PTAC worked closely with the Secretary of State’s office to create an email alert for Minnesota business owners seeking further information on vet-owned status and opportunities.
Duff and MnDOT did workshops around the state and even became involved in discussion about connecting the Vikings stadium construction with veterans-owned businesses.
Minnesota rates fifth in veterans-owned businesses, Ritchie said.
Ritchie emphasizes that the Secretary of State’s office, in providing business services, tries to keep the system “stable and robust” and make it available to many who wish to be creative in growing their businesses.
In addition to business services, the Secretary of State’s office also helps with personal adoptions and helps Minnesotans create their families, Ritchie said. He said during the government shutdown two years ago, the adoptive program stayed alive because of the importance placed on it.
Ritchie smiled widely and said that many of their clients regard them as a consumer protection agency. Many of the businesses that register with the Secretary of State have less than 10 employees.
Ritchie said his office is currently asking for suggestions to make their service better. He said when a thank you is received by his office, this offers an opportunity to ask for ideas from the public to make the Secretary of State’s service better.
“Keeping morale high is challenging, especially with the disrespect shown by some toward public service,” Ritchie said.
Even though business services claims much of the Secretary of State’s staffing, the election services division still claims the most attention. Minnesota has taken pride in being first in voter turnout for the past many years. Changing technology has allowed the elections system in Minnesota to meet the voters’ needs within shrinking budgets.
Minnesota has a potential of 4 million voters.
“We intend on keeping our voting system modern and No. 1,” Ritchie said.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]