The Data on Entrepreneurship:

5 ways to look at Minnesota's entrepreneurial culture.

Measuring entrepreneurship is an elusive business. We tend to think of it terms of self-employment and small operations; we also tend to think of people like Steve Jobs, who employed thousands. The U.S. Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development all take various counts to get a handle on the phenomenon.

Perhaps none of them capture precisely the psychological, light-bulb-going-on approach to the world that people have in mind when they think about entrepreneurship. But, taken together, they do show shifts and trends that can shed light as communities try to think differently about entrepreneurship and its role in economic development.

And what a number of these measures show in Minnesota is that the past few years haven't looked especially robust. The trends show new companies, self-employed people and the income of sole proprietors all were climbing after the turn of the century but then turned down in recent years. The data typically is available only through 2009 or 2010 and some say they are seeing renewed activity and are predicting more.

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New Minnesota businesses. Compiled by the Secretary of State's office, which requires registration of all new corporations, non-profits, partnerships and other business organizations. The number of new organizations that file each year was rising steadily for many years but fell off after 2009.

Self-employment in Minnesota

Tracked by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development but derived from IRS data based on individuals' income tax returns. It counts the number of people in a given year who reported taxable income from self-employment. Nationally, this actually represents the majority of businesses but only about one-eighth of all jobs.

This measure rose in Minnesota every year from 2002 to 2007. It declined in 2008 and again in 2009 to a level equal to that of 2004. A few counties showed increases in self-employment between 2008 and 2009 and most of those were clustered in the upper Minnesota River valley.

New Companies with Employees Also tracked by DEED, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. This measure counts the number of companies with employees (and thus subject to unemployment insurance rules) that start operations in any given year.

Minnesota numbers are compiled on the DEED site and are complete through 2010.

This number was rising or steady in Minnesota until 2007 but fell in each of the next three years, although the 2010 decline was slight. In a few counties, notably Wadena and Polk, this number rose from 2007 to 2010.

Proprietor income changes between 2006 and 2009 by county. From the Bureau of Economic Analysis

Changes to number of individuals designating themselves as self-employed between 2007 and 2009. US Census.