Guest column: Economic development opportunities for entrepreneurs and communities – Albert Lea Tribune


Guest column by Tim Penny

At the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, one of the three program areas we focus on is economic development. Since our founding in 1986, we have strived to catalyze entrepreneurial activity in our 20-county region by providing start-up investments, traditional loans, microcredit, technical assistance and entrepreneur mentorship. Each year, SMIF invests approximately $ 2.1 million in economic development initiatives.

Tim penny

The Small Business Administration of the United States recently celebrated National Small Business Week, which recognizes the essential contributions of American entrepreneurs and small business owners. According to the SBA, more than half of Americans own or work for a small business, and they create nearly two in three new jobs in the United States each year. This is one of the reasons why the SMIF has been involved in credit for 35 years. SMIF has supported more than 560 businesses through 741 loans, investing $ 33.4 million in the region through loans.

Over the past several months, SMIF loan staff have entered into small business loans, in partnership with SBA, 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 large businesses are essential to our economy, which is why we provide business loans that support manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and other key industries. Most recently, we entered into a commercial loan to Bio-Plastic Solutions in Ellendale. For more information on SMIF’s corporate funding opportunities, visit

There are other means than direct loans that support entrepreneurship and economic development in our region. We also create opportunities for communities and organizations to develop their local economies through the provision of grants. SMIF’s Economic Development Grants program aims to fund projects up to $ 20,000 that empower communities to build more prosperous local economies. This grant is a great opportunity for cities, counties, economic development authorities, other public institutions and non-profit organizations to develop economic development in their communities. We are currently seeking applications for this grant, which is due October 26th. Visit our website at or contact Jennifer Heien, Grants Coordinator, at 507-214-7040 or [email protected]

The AmeriCorps VISTA program is another way SMIF supports economic growth and prosperity. VISTA is one of the oldest national service branches of AmeriCorps. Members serve full time for one year in nonprofit organizations or local government agencies to increase the economic prosperity of various groups. The SMIF recruits and associates VISTA members with the positions of on-site service partners in our region.

SMIF is currently recruiting three VISTA members. One member will support SMIF’s Prosperity Initiative, which supports entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous or of Color (BIPOC). Another member, who will also be hosted by SMIF, will support the second year of a regional food project aimed at building the capacity of small farmers. The third member will work with Red Wing Ignite to establish a more inclusive approach to reaching and serving BIPOC entrepreneurs in rural communities. If you are interested in applying for any of these service opportunities, apply at or contact Barbara Gunderson, Director of AmeriCorps, at [email protected] or 507-456-0353 by September 30.

Economic development takes many forms. At SMIF, we pride ourselves on being able to support economic growth in Southern Minnesota through opportunities that support entrepreneurs and the communities in which they live.

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

Tim Penny is the President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He represented the 1st Congressional District of Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.


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