Feature Image: Attendees at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Bridge.

A couple of years ago we went through a rebranding exercise at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) and settled on the tagline, “collaborating for regional vitality,” as a simple way to represent our work. This phrase gets to the heart of everything that we do, whether in early childhood, economic development or community vitality, and it really comes alive for me during our fall events as we gather with many partners and leverage relationships to strengthen the fabric of our region.

This theme of collaboration and relationships came up time and again throughout the fourth annual Entrepreneurial Bridge which we recently held in Austin. In addition to hearing from inspirational speakers who emphasized the importance of relationships in the business world, attendees spent the day learning from each other and identifying symbiotic relationships that will help their businesses grow. 

Collaboration was critical to panelists that talked about ways businesses can help alleviate the child care shortage. Whether they are offering flexibility with hours, free school transportation for kids, or a center on their property, they relied on partnerships among organizations in the community to create these incentives for employees. We also heard from Tom Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center, and John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center, about the future of our economy. We are coming to the end of the Industrial Revolution and are experiencing the dawn of the Information Revolution which has already begun to change our economy and our rural communities. As we prepare for these changes, we will be relying on strong relationships to ensure our region thrives instead of falters under these new conditions.

As we look to the future we also want to be sure our youngest entrepreneurs are feeling supported. One of the highlights of the Entrepreneurial Bridge for me is the student competition. Ten teams comprised of students from southern Minnesota colleges pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges. Their innovative ideas ranged from lunch bags designed for adults to phone applications designed to address workforce shortages, and three winners walked away with prize money to invest in their businesses. Our hope is that if they start a business in southern Minnesota, they might just stay here. We look forward to continuing relationships with these students as they become our next generation of entrepreneurs.

Now that the Entrepreneurial Bridge is over, we are shifting our focus to our other fall events. On October 11 we will be hosting our Annual Luncheon in Owatonna. We will hear from partners across the region who are moving the needle on important issues like school readiness, rural philanthropy and economic prosperity for immigrants and refugees. This is an important opportunity to reflect on the year and strengthen relationships with partners in the region, while meeting new people to collaborate with in the future.

On October 26 – 27, we will host the Early Childhood Care Conference, also in Owatonna. This event attracts around 400 early child care providers and educators from across the region to learn best practices in the field. These educators have developed a network over the years that is creating a better future for the children in our region.

“Collaborating for regional vitality” is a short sentence but it is packed with meaning. We are proud to be a partner in many efforts across the region that will result in a better future for southern Minnesotans.

To register for the Annual Luncheon contact Melissa Langer at melissal@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215. To register for the Early Childhood Care Conference contact Rona Holcomb at ronah@smifoundation.org or 507-214-7017. To register online for both events visit smifoundation.org/events.

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.