Riverland, SMIF aim to boost economic growth

Published 6:53 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

A local partnership has secured more than $60,000 to boost economic growth in southern Minnesota.

Riverland Community College is teaming up with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) to create an 18-month game plan supporting entrepreneurs in minority and immigrant communities — to increase community vitality.

SMIF’s grant, called The Community Growth Initiative, spans three counties and invests $15,000 in each. Communities targeted are near each of Riverland’s campuses in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna. $15,000 more has been set aside for Riverland’s logistical costs of facilitating the projects.

The Community Growth Initiative is tied to collaboration, local assets and long-term change. The initiative is designed to provide an opportunity for these cities to support immigrant workforce efforts and minority-owned businesses, Elise Davis, program director at SMIF said.

SMIF, a donor-supported foundation that invests in the economic growth of 20 Minnesota counties, has organized Community Growth Initiatives in 22 communities, but the partnership with Riverland is unique.

This is the first time that an educational institution such as Riverland has worked as a coordinator, and the first time a single community initiative has been done across three counties, according to Tim Penny, SMIF President and CEO.

“We sought out Riverland because we want to assist the growing immigrant workforce in each of these counties,” Davis said. “We know this will really create a huge impact on each of the communities involved.”

Riverland posted a 27.5 percent increase of enrolled immigrant and minority students from 2008 to 2009.

The initiative kicks of in February, on each campus, with a series of meetings of representatives from Riverland and SMIF, as well as community and business leaders. “Speak Outs,” similar to town hall meetings, will be held in the fall to elect the volunteer-based projects, designed to nurture a culture of entrepreneurism.

At that point, matching funds will be solicited in all three communities — meaning the total project investment could reach $105,000.

Davis said that finding matching funds has never been a problem and that, in fact, each community in the past has produced exceeding investments.

Riverland’s Training and Strategic Development Office – based in the Owatonna office — is charged with facilitating the tri-community project.

“We are very happy and excited to be involved,” said Doug Parr, director of Riverland’s Training and Strategic Development Office. “Education will certainly be an aspect, but for us, it is also about being present and involved in our community.”

To learn more about the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, go to www.smifoundation.com.