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Heitkamp meets with women business leaders

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talks with participants of the Women’s Small Business Roundtable at the University of Jamestown Friday. Keith Norman / The Sun

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said entrepreneurs, including women entrepreneurs, are important to North Dakota's future.

Heitkamp told the Women's Small Business Roundtable at the University of Jamestown Friday that North Dakota has about 20,000 women-owned businesses and is ranked high among the states for women starting and growing businesses.

"At the end of the day," she said, "the single most significant thing we can do for the diversification of the North Dakota economy is support small business."

About 10 women attended the roundtable. Topics included making financing more available for women-owned businesses and finding workers.

Tami Dillman, finance manager for Central Valley Health District, said family responsibilities are among the challenges facing women starting businesses. "We're often responsible for others," she said. "Day care is a big issue."

Heitkamp said affordable day care is actually a workforce development issue because it allows more people to enter the job market.

Heitkamp also said the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would allow small businesses to offer the same family leave benefits now offered by large businesses. This would help make working for small businesses more attractive.

The FAMILY Act would place a payroll tax on the employer and employee and use the proceeds to provide maternity and paternity leave and leave in other family situations. The employee would be paid 60 percent of the regular salary for the duration of his or her leave.

"We know it can work," Heitkamp said. "We just need to get over the hurdle of another government program."

Recruiting and retaining workers were a common theme to the discussion.

Tricia Seckerson, owner of Quiznos and Dairy Queen in Jamestown and a partner in BluFrog Realty, said keeping workers requires working with them.

"Get to know them on a personal level," she said. "Make it a fun environment."

Heitkamp also talked about supporting rural entrepreneurs and changing the direction of the Small Business Administration to provide the economic tools necessary for growing businesses.