With the barrage of news these days from the ongoing fires in California to the terror attacks around the globe and of course the consistent thrum of politic divide, it is still important to sit back and reflect on what to be grateful for at this time of year. And, there is so much for which to be thankful for this year. For me, I’m thankful for my family, which has now grown with the addition of an eighth grandchild. Professionally, I am grateful for the donors and many partners who make possible the impactful work and accomplishments of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF).

At SMIF, we have the pleasure of working with many generous donors and collaborative partners who help us move the needle on a number of issues in southern Minnesota. Together we effect change and I saw that happen a couple weeks ago at Feast! Local Foods Marketplace where local food producers connected with the public and buyers to launch new business relationships and open expanding markets. This annual event would not happen without our many partners such as Renewing the Countryside, Region Nine and the U of MN SE Regional Sustainable Development Partnership. Our Feast! donors include Minnesota Department of Agriculture, The McKnight Foundation, Hormel Foods and Mayo Clinic among many others.

This year SMIF has also rededicated its work to focusing on the vitality of our small towns and a commitment to rural. To do this we launched the Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV), a unique, long-term project that focuses on developing processes and systems for sustainable economic growth. We selected five towns to participate in REV – Blue Earth, Lake City, Le Sueur, Lanesboro/Spring Valley, and Spring Grove. In addition, through our new small town grant program, we also provided seven grants to communities under 5,000 totaling $61,500. In 2018, we will launch a retooled version of this program.

Partnership and collaboration made all of these programs and events possible. To advance Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s work, we have steadfast partnerships with many organizations. One example is Region Nine, who we honored as our Partner Of The Year at our Annual Luncheon this year. Other partners such as the Mardag Foundation stepped in to play an even larger financial role in our Quality Child Care Provider (QCCP) program. This program has trained over 500 early child care professionals in our region. Another partner, ABDO Publishing, generously supplied additional books for our QCCP program this past year. The Department of Employment and Economic Development recently granted dollars to support our Prosperity Initiative program through 2018 and 2019 along with CliftonLarsonAllen Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and Fred and Shelly Krahmer of Fairmont, who provided gap funding for the Prosperity Initiative when we needed it. This vital program offers business training and mentoring to new immigrant and minority entrepreneurs in our region. There are so many partners to be grateful for this year; together we are advancing the vitality of southern Minnesota.

Finally all of this work would not be possible without the support of SMIF’s many donors. In our efforts to make a greater impact on southern Minnesota we sought increased funding from both existing and new donors. Our goal was to raise $300,000 by year’s end and thanks to our many supporters we have raised $380,000! That total includes 54 new donors for the year and almost 50 of our current donors who increased their giving by 38%. I am thankful and humbled by their belief in what we do in partnership with others to invest in the future of our southern Minnesota region.

Happy New Year!

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny

Tim Penny is the President & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Tim represented Minnesota’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 – 1994.