By Peter Passi Duluth News Tribune
Tami LaPole Edmunds launched her business, Art in the Alley, six years ago in Superior.
But after four years there, she moved her shop across the bridge to Duluth, explaining that she saw more growth opportunities in Minnesota.
"I took a chance. I took a risk moving here, but I have increased my sales significantly," she said from her shop at 230 E. Superior St.
During a visit to LaPole Edmunds' shop Monday morning, Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he hopes the state can encourage more like-minded women entrepreneurs.
While he spoke highly of the Legislature's passage of the Women's Economic Security Act earlier this year, Thissen said: "I think there's still going to be a lot of work to do."
The act increased the amount of unpaid maternity leave available to workers from six to 12 weeks. It also required businesses that contract with the state and employ 50 people or more to certify they provide equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.
The rules won't apply universally to all employers, but Thissen said: "I hope it starts a statewide conversation and that new tools evolve that can be used by other folks, as well."
He noted that recent statistics showed women working in Northeastern Minnesota typically earn only 75 cents on the dollar, compared with men employed in similar capacities.
"I don't think people are intentionally paying women less, but we need to recognize the gap. Some of it may be the mix of jobs available in the region," Thissen said.
Jennifer Schultz, the DFL nominee for the House District 7A seat, said she'd like to see women provided with at least some paid maternity leave, as well as a minimum amount of sick time for all workers, to keep people from needing to report to their jobs when ill and at risk of spreading an ailment.
"We also need to do more to make child care affordable," she said. "Minnesota has the third-highest child care costs in the country."
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said women bring a valuable skill set to the business world.
"Women are used to planning. We're organized," she said. "And when a woman sets her mind to something, it usually gets accomplished."
Despite warnings from critics that raising the minimum wage and passing the Women's Economic Security Act would hurt Minnesota's economy, Schulz said: "Businesses have been flocking to our state because our economy is doing well, we have low unemployment and we have such a quality workforce."
LaPole Edmunds said her business has grown each of the past six years, but her path hasn't always been smooth.
"In March of this year was the first time I vocalized the possibility of a Plan B for my business," she recalled. LaPole Edmunds said that steep drifts and snowbanks immobilized much of downtown causing her to lose the equivalent of about 10 days of business in the key month of December, and difficult winter weather persisted through the first few months of 2014.
But LaPole Edmunds said she's glad she toughed it out.
"Downtown Duluth is becoming more vibrant almost daily," she said.
LaPole Edmunds also is working to expand her reach beyond Duluth. She said she's ramping up online sales efforts to broaden her market and grow her business to the next level.