Feature Image: From left: Fred W. Krahmer, Profinium, Inc., SMIF Board Vice Chair; Jennifer Sawyer, Rebound Enterprises, SMIF Board Chair; Christopher Ingraham, Reporter for The Washington Post, Keynote; Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, Region Nine Development Commission, Partner of the Year; Tim Penny, SMIF President & CEO.

Regional foundation announces winners of new small town investments at 2017 luncheon


OWATONNA, Minn., October 18, 2017 – On Tuesday, October 17, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) hosted 250 leaders and partners from its 20-county region in Owatonna for its annual luncheon. SMIF’s region has over 175 individual communities. “Rural matters,” said SMIF President and CEO, Tim Penny. “Our region benefits from larger communities like Rochester and Mankato, but the many small communities – each with their own identity – give our region its identity.”

Penny stated that 45% of SMIF’s investments over the past five years have gone to communities with populations of 5,000 or less. That closely matches the population breakdown of the region; 46% of the population lives in small communities or rural areas.

For the past 31 years, SMIF has been making grants, loans and programming investments to help southern Minnesota remain a sustainable place to live, work and enjoy. To support more collaboration and innovation, especially in its smallest communities, SMIF announced the winners for two new programs: Small Town Grants and Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV). A full list of winners is below.

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Representatives from the 5 Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) communities, along with REV coaches.

“This intentional approach to building economic development systems to support growing local companies will have long term impacts and will truly build vibrant, resilient communities,” said Pam Bishop, SMIF Vice President of Economic Development. Blandin Foundation, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Region Nine Development Commission and the University of Minnesota Extension are all partners on REV.

Christopher Ingraham, a reporter for The Washington Post, was the keynote for the day. In 2015, Ingraham used data from the USDA to proclaim Red Lake County, Minnesota as the “ugliest place in America.” Shortly thereafter, he ended up moving to Red Crow Lake.

“A Pew Research poll of people living in big cities indicates that 80% of them want to live in a small town or rural area,” said Ingraham. “People don’t need to be told why it’s great in these small communities, they need to know that’s it’s possible for them to make the move.”

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Christopher Ingraham, reporter for The Washington Post, giving the keynote address.

Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, Executive Director of Region Nine Development Commission (RNDC) accepted the award on behalf of RNDC as Partner of the Year. RNDC is often a loan collaborator with SMIF, and supports the Foundations work in many other ways.

“We may be small, but we are mighty,” said Penny in the closing remarks. “In just over a year and a half, we’ve seen Madelia rebuild from a devastating fire. We can reinvent ourselves, but it takes hard work, collaboration and dedication.”

SMIF is a donor-supported community foundation. All donations to SMIF or one of its 27 local community foundations are tax-deductible.

Small Town Grant Recipients: 7 winners, $61,500

  • Chatfield Center for the Arts, Fillmore County, Community Engagement and Program Planning Initiative
  • City of Houston, Stories: YES Houston
  • Lake City Economic Development Authority, Making it Home – Marketing Small Town America
  • Sibley County Community Development, Henderson Creative Economy Community
  • Spring Grove School District, Spring Grove School Community Makerspace Program
  • St. James Public Schools, Uniting Cultures/Uniendo Culturas
  • Tri-City United Schools and Communities, Czech Heritage Trail

Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) Communities

  • Blue Earth (Faribault County)
  • Lake City (Wabasha County)
  • Lanesboro & Spring Valley (Fillmore County)
  • Le Sueur (Le Sueur County)
  • Spring Grove (Houston County)

About Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a donor-supported foundation, invests for economic growth in the 20 counties of south central and southeastern Minnesota. The Foundation has provided more than $106 million in grants, loans and programming within the region during the past 31 years. SMIF’s key interests include early childhood, community and economic development. To learn more about our work and mission, visit www.smifoundation.org.

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Representatives from the 7 communities receiving Small Town Grants. Not pictured: City of Houston