Guest column: Recognizing partners that made 2022 a success

Published 8:45 pm Friday, December 23, 2022

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Guest column by Tim Penny

At the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) our motto is collaborating for regional vitality, and we do our best to live up to that commitment. In each area of our work — early childhood, entrepreneurship and community vitality — we are mindful of partners in the state and region with whom we can collaborate to make a difference. Especially at this time of year as we look back at our accomplishments in 2022, we want to express our gratitude to these partners.

Tim Penny

In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), SMIF issued COVID business recovery grants to over 2,000 businesses in our region, totaling over $20 million since the onset of the pandemic. For SMIF this was over and above our regular workload, and I am also extremely grateful to our staff who stepped up to make this happen!

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In partnership with Renewing the Countryside, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other organizations, we co-sponsored the ninth annual Feast Local Foods Marketplace on Nov. 5 at the Mayo Civic Center. It was our most successful event ever, with over 90 local food booths (exhibiting products like syrups and sauces, meats and cheeses, wines, brews and more) and roughly 1,300 attendees. This event is a great way to highlight and celebrate the growing local foods sector in our region.

In partnership with, and often a referral from, local banks and economic development agencies, SMIF issued a total of 30 loans in fiscal year 2022 amounting to $1.7 million. In the first few months of fiscal year 2023, we have already added another seven loan clients to that number. We are proud to play a role in supporting new and early-stage businesses in our region.

SMIF also engages in numerous business training activities each year. These include our Prosperity Initiative offering coaching and mentoring to minority and new immigrant entrepreneurs, our Rural Entrepreneur Venture (REV) program which assists communities in creating an entrepreneurial culture, our Entrepreneur Bridge event which draws upwards of 75 small businesses each year for informational sessions important to business success, and our Young Entrepreneur competitions focused on encouraging a new generation to start and build a business in our region. Various partners make these efforts possible — including Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA), the University of Minnesota Extension Service, Red Wing Ignite, Collider in Rochester, Region Nine Development Commission, and the South-Central Minnesota Business Development Center in Mankato — as well as several of our region’s colleges and universities.

For many years, SMIF has supported early education through grant-making and literacy efforts in our 20-county region. This past year our reading programs distributed books to over 40 organizations, totaling over 21,000 books. Our book program includes a partnership with many Kiwanis clubs in the area. All of this great work is made possible due to the generosity of two local publishing companies, Abdo and Capstone, who donate books for this purpose.

Throughout each year, SMIF offers trainings for early childhood providers to help them secure the continuing education credits they need to stay in business and be the best they can be. In the past year we provided 29 trainings reaching 711 providers! We want to express appreciations to our key partners in this work: Families First, LeSueur County, Lake Crystal Little Lakers, Mankato Public Schools, Help Me Grow, United Way of Steele County, as well as various trainers.

As of 2022, SMIF is partnering with 31 communities in southern Minnesota by helping them create and maintain community funds. These funds are designed to assist smaller towns in securing tax-deductible donations to build endowments and to invest in local needs. The book “Boomtown USA” cites community funds as one of the keys to small town vitality, and we are pleased to partner with community leaders in this regard.

As you can see, at SMIF we have much to celebrate and many partners to thank.

We look forward to working with our regional partners again in 2023 to continue investing in the vitality of our southern Minnesota region.

In the meantime, enjoy the coming holiday season. As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.