My old friend Glenn Switzer invited me to attend the Dundas Quarterly Business Forum this morning, produced by the Dundas Business and Professional Group. The event was held at the fabulous facilities of College City Beverage, in the impressive hospitality room, with it’s spectacular view of the scenic Cannon River valley.
The speaker was Tim Penny, former United States Representative and current President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund (SMIF). The foundation was one of the six regional initiative funds set up by the McKnight Foundation back during the farm crisis of the 1980s. The goal was to help shift rural economies to more diverse mixes of businesses. Over the past 20 years, McKnight has spent over $210 million on these efforts.
SMIF has invested $36 million in the southeast region over the same period. Its goals are vibrant communities, innovative and successful businesses, and a skilled and valued workforce. Their financial support includes grants, loans, and equity capital.
The foundation’s current areas of focus are emerging businesses and workforces, particularly in the medical, agricultural, and renewable energy sectors. Recent examples of these efforts are the Rochester BioBusiness Center and the Community-Based Energy Development Forum.
Penny believes that our region has unique strengths in higher education, is fortunate to have multiple vital economic centers such as Rochester, Owatonna and Mankato, and enjoys greater business diversity than other regions. In a response to a question from local businessperson Jerry Anderson, Penny offered SMIF’s resources to work with our community and the two colleges in finding ways of achieving greater economic leverage from these key higher education assets.
It could be a very worthwhile collaboration.