Still backing new businesses; SMIF loans spur growth

Published 9:59 am Friday, May 1, 2015

By Tim Penny

Southern Minnesota Foundation president

National job creation numbers were flat in March and Minnesota’s numbers are tracking similarly. Obviously, job growth follows business growth. Through our various lending and other programs, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) plays a role in job creation for 20 counties in southern Minnesota. We are recently experiencing significant growth in our portfolio, specifically with small business loans and equity investments. This small business sector represents 65 percent of the jobs in America and our programs are assisting numerous job creating start-up businesses in our region.



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Each year we support, on average, more than 30 new business loans and over the years we’ve supported over 525 businesses in total. Over the years, the businesses that received funding from SMIF have retained 4,500 existing jobs and created more than 3,330 jobs. One of our recent loan clients, Urban Finds, located in Medford, is just one example. This small retail business employs 13 with seven of those positions being newly created jobs.

In addition to our lending activity, SMIF’s Southern Minnesota Equity Fund and SEED Fund provide capital and expertise to early-stage and start-up companies. In the past year, these funds have helped to launch or expand five businesses. Not only are these companies creating new products and hiring workers, they are also choosing to grow their innovative companies right here in southern Minnesota. And as these businesses expand in the future, that will set the stage for greater economic growth.

Besides our equity and lending partnerships, we have also been part of the growing discussion about our region’s workforce needs. One of the grants given through SMIF’s Regional Community Growth Initiative went to support the SE MN Together project. This project will align and coordinate workforce solutions that address the labor shortage in southeastern Minnesota by forming a coalition to work with the business and community leaders to better identify and respond to workforce shortages in critical sectors. This group is also coordinating its efforts with Rochester Area Economic Development’s project called , “Journey To Growth,” that will cover Dodge, Houston, Fillmore, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona Counties. SMIF wants to ensure that these two workforce efforts are well coordinated and collaboratively implemented.

And finally, SMIF partnered with MNCup, a U of M Carlson School of Management competition designed to support Minnesota’s new entrepreneurs. Our role is to encourage and mentor businesses who participate in this annual MNCup competition. In recent years, numerous businesses from our region have participated in this “new venture competition” and we are excited that two have taken home the top prize. In 2014, 75F of Mankato won the grand prize and back in 2011, AUM of Northfield, was the grand prize winner. Since then, both companies have raised additional equity and have expanded their business markets in southern Minnesota and beyond.

If you would like more information on SMIF’s economic development resources or other ways you can partner with us, you can contact me at or 507-455-3215 or visit to our website