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All set to be ‘revved’ up

By Staff | Oct 22, 2017

These five people represented the community of Blue Earth at the SMIF meeting last Tuesday. Left to right are Kristi Yost, John Huisman, Cindy Lyon, Tim Ibisch and Wendy Cole.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) announced Blue Earth as one if its five Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) communities at a special luncheon last Tuesday at the SMIF office in Owatonna.

On hand for the announcement from Blue Earth were city administrator Tim Ibisch, council members Wendy Cole and John Huisman, Chamber of Commerce director Cindy Lyon and Kristi Yost of the Faribault County Development Corporation.

“We are really excited about being chosen for this brand new venture by SMIF,” Ibisch said. “This is quite an honor for our city.”

Ibisch said the city of Blue Earth first received a visit from officials from SMIF on Sept. 17.

“There were 12 or 13 people there, from City Council reps to some local business people,” Ibisch said. “It was about a three hour meeting where the folks from SMIF were gauging our amount of interest and how much support we would give to the project if we were to be chosen as one of the pilot cities.”

This REV program is the first of its kind in Minnesota, Ibisch said, calling it a prototype.

But just what is this program exactly about?

According to a SMIF press release, starting January 2018, these five towns will participate in a new strategic initiative designed to build sustainable and resilient entrepreneurial ecosystems to boost business activity and community engagement in rural communities. Through SMIF’s partnership with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship (based out of Lincoln, Nebraska) Blue Earth will adopt their Energizing Entrepreneur (e2) program to accelerate entrepreneurial activity.

Communities which fully engage in the REV program will see the following outcomes:

Increased prosperity;

Increased entrepreneurial behavior;

Increased competitiveness;

Broaden diversification in leadership, community activity and businesses;

Increased resilience.

Through the above outcomes, an increase in philanthropy.

“For the past 30 years, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation has been leading the way as an economic development foundation in our 20-county region,” said Tim Penny, SMIF’s President and CEO. “However, we recognize the need and opportunity to approach economic development from a systems-perspective so that even our smallest communities can be resilient in the face of inevitable challenges.”

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen economic growth in hundreds of communities from rural Kansas to eastern Washington,” said Don Macke, co-founder and director of Entrepreneurial Communities at The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. “Our rural communities are rich in entrepreneurs; we just help communities foster those existing assets and create the social and civic infrastructure for them to thrive.”

Holt County, Nebraska, is one region that has seen great results from the Center’s e2 model. Holt County went from losing one percent of its population annually to gaining 400 new families since they started the program in 2007. They also developed a $5 million endowment, created 400 new jobs, 82 news businesses, 39 business expansions and 26 business transitions.

Communities were selected from a competitive application process. All communities of 5,000 or less in SMIF’s 20-county region were eligible to apply. Other participating communities are: Lake City, Lanesboro and Spring Valley (combined), Le Sueur, and Spring Grove.

Blandin Foundation, Region Nine Development Commission and the University of Minnesota Extension are all partners on REV.

“We look at this as a way to gain people and businesses, and keep from losing ground,” Ibisch said. “It is a very positive thing. We feel it is a way to invigorate our community.”

Ibisch says the next step is a meeting in Owatonna on Nov. 14. The city will also be hiring a local coordinator for the project. And to form a committee to work on it.

“This is a fairly long term commitment, for three years,” Ibisch said. “It will be exciting to see how we can change things and get reinvigorated as a community.”