In 1986, an economic crisis had shaken Greater Minnesota. Farms across the state faced bankruptcy and rural communities suffered. Accordingly, young people were leaving the small towns that had nurtured them in search of opportunities elsewhere. These developments created uncertainty about the future of rural Minnesota.
In the midst of that “farm crisis,” the urban-based McKnight Foundation held listening sessions across the state to determine how best to support Greater Minnesota during this time. After recognizing that the most-effective solutions would be driven by local people in rural communities, McKnight Foundation had the foresight to create the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations, with a mission to support rural vitality.
The MIF model is completely unique to Minnesota. These six sister foundations, including Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, were launched to provide support and resources directly to the people and communities in their respective regions.
Thirty-four years later, SMIF has invested more than $114 million in southern Minnesota alone. We have found our region’s communities have proven to be not only resilient in the face of unprecedented challenges, but innovative in the way they approach solutions.
Today we are in crisis again. Within a short period of time, our world has changed from what it was just a few weeks ago, and with this new uncertainty come those familiar fears about what the future may bring. At SMIF, we have fielded many calls from partners expressing those sentiments, wondering how their business or organization will survive. However, we have seen glimmers of hope as businesses quickly adapt by holding virtual and curbside sales, or by altering their marketing strategies to address the current situation.
We also have seen communities come together to support health care workers and other personnel on the frontline of this pandemic.
And, true to our mission, SMIF is again prepared to rise to the challenges brought about by this new crisis by supporting the needs in our 20-county region.
One way we have been supporting entrepreneurs is by acting as a link between business owners and the state of Minnesota. SMIF lenders have been working with hundreds of businesses to help them apply for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Small Business Emergency Loans. These loans help business owners who are experiencing temporary cash flow shortages as a result of statewide orders to close restaurants, bars and other select public services.
While these loans will certainly help, we also strongly encourage businesses to apply directly to the federal SBA Disaster Loan Assistance and the Paycheck Protection Program (now available through local banks and credit unions).
In addition, SMIF, along with the five other Minnesota Initiative Foundations, is providing immediate financial assistance to licensed child care providers in Greater Minnesota through the Emergency Child Care Grant Program. This program was quickly created by the MIFs at the suggestion of Gov. Tim Walz.
Within several days of announcing this program, the MIFs each set aside $50,000, and then secured an additional $100,000 from the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund. In the SMIF 20-county region alone, we received more than 500 applications for these grants. While this is more than our grant program can currently support, we were glad to act as a source of immediate funding while more funding opportunities were developed.
The COVID-19 aid bill recently passed by the Minnesota Legislature included $30 million in assistance to child care providers. SMIF is now referring child care providers to this state grant program is being administered by Child Care Aware.
All the resources mentioned above, and more, can be found on our website at smifoundation.org/covid-19.
While we cannot predict the future, we have seen time and again that the people of southern Minnesota are resilient. Remember, spring is here, and we will all begin to see signs of new growth soon. I am confident we will get through this current crisis by working together, as we always do.
I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (507) 455-3215.
Tim Penny is president & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, a donor-supported entity that invests for economic growth in the 20 counties of south-central and southeastern Minnesota.