Feature Image: Garage Cowork Space in Winona

At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), one of the three program areas that we focus on is Economic Development. Since our founding in 1986, we have worked to catalyze entrepreneurial activity in our 20-county region by providing early-stage investments, traditional loans, micro loans, technical assistance and mentoring of entrepreneurs. Each year we invest around $1.8 million in economic development initiatives.

Just within the past few months we closed loans with a food truck called Peppered Cow in Albert Lea, Jessica’s Daycare in Austin, Fiddlehead Coffee Company in Rochester, and a vegetable farm called Pearson Organics in Oronoco. We also recently awarded SEED investments to Easy Living Solutions in Rochester and Busy Baby in Oronoco, two start-up businesses that need capital to develop their products. It’s always exciting to see entrepreneurs turning their innovative ideas into reality.

We also know that entrepreneurs need support in other ways besides financing, which is why we fund organizations and communities through grants. Last summer, Faribault Diversity Coalition received a grant to promote economic growth in downtown Faribault by providing a co-working space for start-up entrepreneurs and small businesses. A few weeks ago, they had a grand opening to showcase the space, and they already have quite a few desks being rented by local entrepreneurs. Another organization, The Garage Cowork Space in Winona, received a grant to provide a series of training sessions and resources for current and aspiring entrepreneurs.

More recently, a grant was awarded to the City of Spring Grove to develop an “entrepreneurial toolkit.” They are using the toolkit to equip local entrepreneurs with resources that will help them address common business challenges. This dovetails nicely with the fact that Spring Grove is one of our Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) communities that we have been working with over the past year and a half. REV is another economic development initiative that currently supports six small towns in our region by focusing on developing processes and systems for sustainable economic growth.

Youth entrepreneurs have also been supported through grants. Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) is using their grant to engage youth in an exploration of entrepreneurial career opportunities in Houston, Fillmore and Winona Counties. MSU-Mankato is using their grant for a design workshop to equip college students to develop solutions to real-world problems. If we can encourage our youngest entrepreneurs to put their ideas to practice, they might just want to stay and open their businesses here in southern Minnesota.

Economic development happens in many forms – a coworking space or trainings for entrepreneurs might be the right answer for some communities. Economic development also happens through the arts and tourism initiatives, among many other things. SMIF’s newly coined Economic Impact Grants are designed to support the dynamic needs of this region.

We are currently seeking applications for the Economic Impact Grant Program, due October 4, 2019. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Pam Bishop, Vice President of Economic Development, at pamb@smifoundation.org or 507-214-7013.

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.

This op-ed has been updated since the original release date.