Feature Image: Angel Uribe, owner of Changes of Stage Center in Mankato, speaks at the Sprout! event in Kasota.

At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), our tagline is “Collaborating for Regional Vitality.” Whether we are working with partners in early childhood, economic development or community vitality, we do our best to complement what others are doing in those arenas so that collectively we can have more results than we would have separately. This spirit of collaboration was brought to life at our inaugural Sprout! events that were held earlier this spring. 

These events, which we hosted in Cannon Falls, Spring Valley, Kasota and Fairmont, were an effort to bring our many resources directly to more people in our region, while celebrating the partnerships that have had an impact on the place we call home. It was energizing to see so many people come out to learn about SMIF and to visit with each other. At each event we heard from several of our partners who spoke about the important work they are doing in the region, and how partnering with SMIF has enhanced that work.

Joya Stetson from Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) spoke about some of the initiatives that have led to stronger structural support for entrepreneurs in rural communities. Through a 2018 Economic Development Grant from SMIF, they created a program in Stewartville to provide rental assistance to new start-up businesses. They have already had two entrepreneurs successfully utilize the program which has resulted in three new jobs. They have also been able to educate 24 entrepreneurs by offering free educational opportunities to the public.

Heather Millard, the Early Childhood Coordinator at Saint Charles Public Schools, talked about the growth in early childhood that she has witnessed over the years in her community. In 2012 SMIF helped start an Early Childhood Initiative, which eventually led to more funding to hold free events for families, deliver welcome bags to new babies in town, and the hiring of a community liaison who supports early childhood in the community and the school. They have also been able to purchase curriculum and supplies for child care providers and they have received grants to provide free books to students.

Angel Uribe, owner of Stages of Change Center in Mankato, talked about her experience in SMIF’s Prosperity Initiative, a program that promotes inclusive entrepreneurship and minority-owned business growth. Through the program she was connected with a business coach, financial planning tutorials, and other important resources and tools that allowed her to reimagine what her business could be. As she likes to say, when she started her business she used to look up and think that the sky is the limit, but with the help of the Prosperity Initiative, the sky is now her point of view.

I left each of the Sprout! events in awe of what our partners have been able to accomplish over the years, and I am humbled that SMIF has been able to play a role in supporting those efforts. As our past board chair, Jean Burkhardt, so eloquently stated, SMIF is like the bassline in music, and the communities in our region are the treble line. The bassline is the steady beat that keeps things going so that the treble line can do impactful work. When all of these notes work together, the result is beautiful music.

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.