Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Awards One Big Thing Grants at Annual Luncheon

OWATONNA, Minn., October 9, 2015 - Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) announced the 2015 awardees of the Foundation's One Big Thing grant at its Annual Luncheon yesterday. SMIF's One Big Thing Grant was awarded to two projects that were developed during a collaborative leadership conference held by SMIF and the Blandin Foundation this past April. The One Big Thing Grant is intended to fund asset-based, community-driven, and innovative projects that help support SMIF's work toward making southern Minnesota a prosperous region.

The first awardee announced was the City of Fairmont's Rural Brain Gain Project. They were granted $33,000 to work on a multi-media campaign to attract and engage the growing cohort of business professionals and blue collar workers who are relocating back to rural towns to live, work, and raise their families. "Brain Gain recognizes that our existing job providers are our best source of economic growth," said Margaret Dillard, President of the Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce. "Through cross-sector collaborations, this project has the capability to be a model approach that other communities can mirror to increase economic activity and also stabilize and grow the regional workforce." This project will impact all the communities within Martin County, including Ceylon, Dunnell, Fairmont, Granada, Northrop, Ormsby, Sherburn, Trimont, Truman, and Welcome.

Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro was the second awardee of a $15,000 grant. Eagle Bluff will use the funds for its "Rural by Design" and "Land Ethic at Work" workshops slated for early 2016. These workshops are intended to address regional concerns regarding the potential environmental impact of the Destination Medical Center (DMC). The first workshop is slated for January 8, 2016 and will be led by landscape planner and author Randall Arendt. "Arendt will help our region's smaller communities and cities explore options to better meet the DMC-related challenges and to better position themselves to understand and address 'smart growth' issues," said Eagle Bluff Executive Director Joe Deden.

"This is the fifth year we've been awarding the One Big Thing grants," said Tim Penny, SMIF President and CEO. "We feel this asset-based, collaborative approach is an effective way of empowering our region's citizens to make their communities - and our region - a great place to call home."

At the Luncheon, SMIF also highlighted MN Cup as its Partner of the Year for their role in helping grow our region's pipeline of entrepreneurs. Three organizations were acknowledged for exemplifying the theme of the event, "Collaborating for Regional Growth:" Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) Food Hub, who utilized a SMIF Incentive Grant to better link small farmers with consumers; SE MN Together, a 2014 One Big Thing grantee who is working to address southeast Minnesota's workforce shortage; and Families First of Minnesota, a leading partner on SMIF's Quality Child Care Provider training program.

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