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Biz Buzz: Change and growth

Change drives economic growth — that was one of the repeated messages at the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. annual meeting.

Bill Blazar, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, public and business development spoke at the annual meeting in Baxter. After years as policy analyst, Blazar said a decade in economic development taught him the importance of change. If the business or the economy isn’t changing, Blazar said it isn’t going to grow. He pointed to Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies. Thirty years ago, he said there were five — 3M, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Hormel and Ecolab. The biggest one on the list now— United Health Group — didn’t exist. He pointed to Deluxe, the company formerly known for checks before online payments cut into check writing, which has transformed itself into a payroll service company for small business.

Other examples of growth opportunities came from the Minnesota Chamber’s Grow Minnesota program.

The program launched 10 years ago with 27 partners and a goal of utilizing public/private partnerships to keep Minnesota companies competitive.

Blazar said a business woman living in Naples, Fla. wanted to include chairs made in the United States for her product. She contacted Grow Minnesota and its 8,000 company database to find a cabinet maker in Owatonna for the work.

Blazar said a sign of economic recovery is that businesses are still sacrificing some profits to get sales, but less so than during the hard days of the Great Recession.

Another theme of the event was innovation.

Blazar’s example came from a local pet device start-up company based in Burnsville. Anser Innovation’s PetChatz device offers a way for pet owners to communicate with pets while they are separated. It’s all done through the Internet.

The home device is placed at a pet height level and has a screen displaying their human friend’s face and voice. At the other end, the human at their computer can see their pet at home through the monitor. The human can also dispense a treat via the device. The treat is being made by Perham-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods. PetChatz is also able to emit a scent designed to be calming to the pet.

At Anser Innovation, the company reports of the 73 million U.S. households with a pet, the “pet parents” consider the animal to be part of the family. The PetChatz device allows a connection while the humans are at work or on vacation.

PetChatz is launching this spring online and at specialty pet stores. The units are listed at a cost of $349. Accessories with treats, scents, mounting brackets and replacement covers are all part of the product lineup.

Anser Innovation sees growth in multiple areas connecting people remotely and interactively by audio and visual means — along with an option to connect such as dispensing medication, particularly with senior health care. The company is developing an audiovisual communication system for caregivers and the people they serve which is expected to launch after PetChatz. The company reports on its website there are additional markets to explore such as families with dependent children.

And it’s all right here in Minnesota.

Certified equine massage therapist Nicole Lynn Jahnke announced the formation of a new company called Excelling Performance, which is providing equine massage therapy services to horses in central Minnesota.

Excelling Performance, Verndale, is concentrating on growing the new business through “referrals from local and regional veterinarians, trainers and groomers, as well as direct referrals from horse owners.

“Jahnke said massage therapy, commonly used as an adjunct to traditional health care in humans, has likewise proved effective both in enhancing overall general health in animals and in alleviating muscle related problems.”

Jahnke said she’s witnessed equine massage relieve pain and suffering. Jahnke reported she is also formerly known in the Wadena/Verndale area as a manager/cosmetologist at Mane Hair Design in Verndale and also the previous ad manager at the Wadena Pioneer Journal.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center (CRMC) reports it is in “the process of implementing a new voice over Internet phone system, which will be much more capable of processing additional calls both to and out of the campus.”

The medical center stated it wanted to apologize for any unanswered calls during this transition, which is slated for completion in March.

“Callers encountering a busy signal or answered call should please press ‘0’ to leave a message,” CRMC reported. “A receptionist will return the call as soon as possible. ... CRMC appreciates the community’s patience as new technology is installed at the hospital, care center and clinics.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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