Feature Image: Community Coordinators meet in Blue Earth as part of the Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) program.

Now that we are past the busyness of the holiday season, I am reflecting on what a wonderful year 2018 was for southern Minnesota. It was a year that renewed my optimism for the future of our unique part of the state. I was once again humbled by the generous people of our 20-county region who make our work at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) worth every minute.

It is impossible to encapsulate everything that I was grateful for in 2018, but this top ten list is a start:

  1. The collaborative spirit of our partners. I am continually in awe of the giant web of partnerships that exist in our region. This year we received more than 26,500 books from ABDO Publishing and Capstone which will be distributed through our various early childhood programs and grants. We also celebrated Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) as Partner of the Year at our Annual Luncheon – they have been a SMIF grant recipient since 1987, receiving 18 grants to do important work in the region.
  2. The innovative people of southern Minnesota. I am always impressed by the creativity of our loan clients and grant recipients, and I was especially energized by the students at the Entrepreneurial Bridge student competition. Seeing our youngest entrepreneurs pitch unique ideas is incredibly energizing and gives me hope that they will start their businesses here – and stay here.
  3. The steps taken towards solutions to the child care shortage. We partnered with First Children’s Finance to conduct a Potential Needs Analysis which concluded that we have a potential need of 8,616 licensed child care slots. Having a deep understanding of the challenge is the first step in developing solutions. We also announced a new grant called Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage which is currently open (deadline is January 22).
  4. The addition of two more Community Foundations. Montgomery and “Our Town USA” (United South-Central School District) became our 27th and 28th Community Foundations. These local funds provide direct support for projects and programing important to their community and are often the lifeblood of small towns.
  5. The growth of the local foods system. This was especially prevalent at the recent FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace event. More than 1,300 people came out during a snow storm to support local food-makers and shop for their holiday gifts.
  6. The addition of a new Prosperity Initiative cohort. This program offers business training and mentoring to new immigrant and minority entrepreneurs in our region. We were excited to welcome a new cohort of 16 business owners.
  7. Our AmeriCorps LEAP Initiative members. Every year I enjoy engaging with our AmeriCorps members who serve in preschool classrooms and nonprofit organizations focused on the social and emotional development of young children in the region. We are currently accepting applications for part time positions.
  8. Our Rural Entrepreneurial Ventures (REV) communities. These six small towns have had a year under their belt of participating in REV and have spent the time conducting assessments of entrepreneurial activity and opportunities for growth. I can’t wait to see how that data is translated into action for these communities in the years to come.
  9. The Early Childhood Care Conference. This was our largest conference yet with nearly 500 people in attendance, including child care providers, preschool teachers, center directors and other early childhood professionals.
  10. Last, but definitely not least, our incredible donors. None of the work mentioned above would be possible without them. Thanks to our 343 donors – individuals, families, cities, counties, businesses and organizations – we have raised $491,168 to date in 2018. I am humbled by their generosity and their belief in the work we do.

Here’s to a new year and a bright future for southern Minnesota. You can find details about the child care shortage grant and the AmeriCorps positions at smifoundation.org.

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

Tim Penny, President & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

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.