Bright ideas get more than a thumbs up

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

$20,000 might burn a hole in anyone’s pocket if it came unexpectedly. The Spring Grove community is the benefactor of such funds but needs input on how to earmark the dollars.

A group of community leaders looking to brand Spring Grove as a great place to work, recreate and do business has collaborated on a grant through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). In the proposal, they highlighted existing assets – such as the swim center, library, cultural heritage, arts emphasis and fiber optic technology – and requested help in the form of a Community Growth Initiative Grant (CGI).

CGI brings community members together to set goals and accomplish a project of choice. The foundation provides facilitation, technical assistance and up to $20,000 to assist efforts that lead to economic growth and prosperity.

CGI communities are selected through an application process, and Spring Grove fit the bill.

Now, to fulfill the grant process, a community meeting has been set for Jan. 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Spring Grove Fest Building. People from all walks of life who are interested in promoting economic development in the Spring Grove area are encouraged to attend.

“Community involvement is the key to this whole grant. It was very clear from the application that SMIF intended for this process to bring together key players from the community to organize and educate and pursue the goals stated within,” said Rachel Storlie, an event organizer.

“It will take the ideas people, the dreamers, the practical types, the financially-minded, the farmer, the lawyer, the mother, the pastor, the senior who is ready to attend college, the senior who has lived on your block for 70 years, etc.  If you are not a big ideas person, no problem – you are wanted and needed and appreciated in this process,” Storlie emphasized.

Those who choose to participate and help generate viable ideas for community growth will be greeted with beverages and morning snacks. A professional facilitator from SMIF, Pam Bishop, will lead discussion and explain how the grant works.

“Pretty soon, you will find yourself a member of a think-tank whose function is to brainstorm how we can grow our community from within, using the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development),” Storlie said.

“It is through this community visioning process that we can collectively identify a shared vision for a future built around entrepreneurship. Lunch will be provided as small group work is done to come up with/develop ‘quick start projects’ that can be completed in six months’ time. The room will be buzzing with ideas, and people will vote on their favorites by the end of our workshop. The quick-start ideas that receive the most ‘votes’ will move into the development phase to compete for the grant money – this is where the reality sets in, and the partnerships are developed that will create a pathway to success for our community,” Storlie said.


Show me the money

After a high-energy morning of  brainstorming and networking – and after selecting key projects – participants will need to further their commitment by agreeing to help projects along.

Storlie said, “SMIF and other grantees know that the matching funds system creates a deeper commitment and follow through for systemic change and growth in communities; therefore, there are certain commitments the community faces to receive funds.

“If your team’s quick-start project moves on to the development/funding phase, you will be expected to work with organizations, industries, merchants and other private or public entities in the community/area to find some matching funds and in-kind donations to get your project off the ground. SMIF will match those funds, as determined by your expenditures forecast.”

She continued, “Most simply put, this is not a matter of throwing money at an existing business to create new inventory or fix a roof or leaks in the basement. This grant money is for the purpose of building a bridge between an entrepreneurial idea and the community. The initial goals during the application were outlined as:

1) developing local entrepreneurs and providing an encouraging environment that leads to success, and

2) Motivating local business owners to see themselves as mentors/collaborators/team players who mutually benefit from the deepening of a entrepreneur-friendly culture.

As the core leadership team met and became acquainted with the grant process we developed a vision statement. We hope anything that comes to the table on Jan. 26 will jive with this statement: ‘To enhance economic vitality in our area by: promoting greater pride in our community, inspiring entrepreneurship and business investment, nurturing existing and new leaders, and encouraging tourism.’”



SMIF dollars cannot support capital improvements, infrastructure or private business.

That said, there are plenty of great examples of how this grant has helped other regional efforts.

For example:

• Lanesboro received funds for starting up a local foods/entrepreneurs website

• Austin set up a resources virtual incubator

• Pine Island reshaped school curriculum to include more exposure to bio career pathways

• Red Wing created an app for tourism and began a non-profit to promote Bluffs-related tourism

• Zumbro Valley began a barn quilt initiative and also built a city-owned RV park whose income is given directly back to the community.

These projects came out of the same type of workshop that Spring Grove is hosting on Jan. 26, and organizers are eager to include all interested parties.

For more information, contact Rachel Storlie at 507-498-3574, or [email protected], or check out


Southern Minnesota
Initiative Foundation

Since 1986, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation has been a catalyst for economic growth in 20 Minnesota counties. Over the past 26 years, SMIF has worked to leverage assets, foster collaboration, increase funding and enhance knowledge.