Small business is big in southern Minn.

Published 10:23 am Monday, June 11, 2012

Column: Tim Penny, Guest Column

When I was a representative in Congress serving southern Minnesota, I would describe my region as the home to Red Wing Shoe, Mayo Clinic, Hormel Foods and the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.

Tim Penny

These are all home-grown enterprises that have expanded and prospered and are now recognized across the country and the world. Today, southern Minnesota is still producing impressive businesses that create thousands of jobs and provide goods and services all over the world.

Email newsletter signup

We know that small businesses have tremendous impact within our communities. Not only do they provide jobs, they also contribute to the quality of life. As I travel throughout southern Minnesota, I notice the vibrancy created when there’s a small café, grocery store, car repair shop or beauty salon on Main Street. These small businesses provide needed services along with a connecting place — a sense of community — for the folks who live there.

We know from our experience that many of these small business operations can grow into large corporations that can last for generations. Last month Mark Davis and his sons hosted our foundation’s Leadership Circle at their operations in Le Sueur.

Mark told the story of how their now-large cheese-making business grew from his father’s local butter-making business. Today their enterprises include Davisco Foods International (the $700 million dairy processor), Cambria (the countertop manufacturer) and Northern Plains Dairy (a modern, large-scale dairy farm coexisting with a healthy environment). In all, these businesses employ over 850 people in the area. That’s a lot of economic stimulus from one entrepreneurial family!

Last month was recognized as Small Business Month to honor America’s close to 30 million small businesses and the amazing people who run them. Since 1963, the United States has chosen the month of May to recognize small businesses and their impact on American culture and economy.

Here at the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation we’re also celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Small Business Administration Micro Loan Program. Through this loan fund, we’ve awarded $2.7 million to 135 small (fewer than five employees) businesses. Our business team reports that over 70 percent of these businesses are still in operation today, which far exceeds the national average for SBA loans of about 50 percent. Collectively these businesses are providing over 280 jobs — not including the owners!

In addition to our foundation’s small business lending, we have provided additional loans to larger businesses for a total of $24.3 million. In all, SMIF has contributed to the success of more than 450 businesses and helped create over 3,200 new jobs.

Since 2001, we have also been awarded a total of $1,296,656 in grant dollars to provide technical assistance to these microbusinesses. Recently, we were approved for a $126,000 grant from SBA for technical assistance to be used from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.

With the grant dollars received and our foundation’s matching dollars, we have provided close to 17,000 hours of technical assistance for both our loan partners and other small businesses in our region. For some, it has made them loan-ready with either SMIF or a bank. For others, this assistance has pointed out that this may not be the right time to get into business or expand. We know that absent this technical assistance, many of these businesses would not have succeeded.

We’re excited about our foundation’s role in providing resources to local entrepreneurs. If you want more information about how we can help your business, visit our website at or call 507-455-3215. As always, I welcome your questions and comments. You can reach me at


Tim Penny is the president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.