Tim Penny: Bringing Small Business Opportunities Together – Austin Daily Herald


At the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), one of the three program areas we focus on is economic development. Since our inception in 1986, we have worked to catalyze entrepreneurship in our 20 county region by providing early stage investments, traditional loans, microcredit, technical support and mentoring for entrepreneurs. Every year SMIF invests approximately $ 2.1 million in economic development initiatives.

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) recently celebrated National Small Business Week, which recognizes the crucial contributions made by American entrepreneurs and small business owners. According to the SBA, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create nearly two in three new jobs in the US each year. This is one of the reasons SMIF has been in the lending business for 35 years. SMIF has backed more than 560 companies with 741 loans, investing $ 33.4 million in the region.

Just in the past few months, SMIF’s lending staff, in partnership with SBA, have signed small enterprise loans to the following small businesses: Blair Construction Cleaner in Rochester, CannonBelles Cheese in Cannon Falls, Curly Girlz Candy in Owatonna, Merge Food Truck in Rochester and Wingham Trucking LLC in Albert Lea. Of course, we also know that larger companies are vital to our economy. That’s why we offer corporate loans that support the manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and other key industries. Most recently, we took out a business loan to Bio-Plastic Solutions in Ellendale. For information on SMIF’s business funding opportunities, visit smifoundation.org/loans.

There are other ways beyond direct lending to support entrepreneurship and economic development in our region. We also create opportunities for communities and organizations to grow their local economies through grants. SMIF’s Economic Development Grant program aims to fund projects worth up to $ 20,000 that enable communities to create a more prosperous local economy. This grant is an excellent opportunity for cities, counties, economic development agencies, other public institutions and nonprofits to promote economic development in their communities. We are currently looking for applications for this scholarship which is due on October 26th. Visit our website at smifoundation.org/economicgrants or contact Jennifer Heien, Scholarship Coordinator at 507-214-7040 or [email protected]

Another way SMIF supports economic growth and prosperity is through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. VISTA is one of the oldest branches of the AmeriCorps. Members work full-time for one year with nonprofit organizations or local government agencies to increase the economic prosperity of various groups. SMIF recruits and places VISTA members in positions for local service partners in our region.

SMIF is currently hiring three VISTA members. One member will support SMIF’s Prosperity Initiative program, which supports entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous, or Colored (BIPOC). Another member, who will also be a guest of SMIF, will support the second year of a regional food project to build the capacities of smallholders. The third member will work with Red Wing Ignite to develop a more inclusive approach to reaching and serving BIPOC entrepreneurs in rural communities. To apply for any of these service opportunities, apply at smifoundation.org/careers or contact Barbara Gunderson, Director of AmeriCorps at [email protected] or 507-456-0353 by September 30th.

Economic development takes many forms. At SMIF, we pride ourselves on supporting economic growth in southern Minnesota through opportunities that support entrepreneurs and the communities they live in.

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. You can reach me at [email protected] or 507-455-3215.


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