PINE ISLAND — Pine Island's eighth annual Winter Fest will be held Jan. 30.

Activities for this year’s Winter Fest will promote getting out while keeping a safe social distance.

There will be groomed cross country ski and snowshoe trails at the golf course provided there's enough snow.

New this year is a Pine Island Scavenger Hunt that can be completed from the comfort of your home. Questions will be uploaded to the Image Committee’s Facebook page and the Chamber’s website starting Jan. 27. Hard copies of the Scavenger Hunt will be available at Van Horn Public Library.

There also will be a cardboard sled race -- Great Pine Island Cardboard Sled Race. Sleds can only be made of cardboard, duct tape, paint and zip ties. They can be decorated with paint, flags and other items, and racers can wear costumes. Award will be given for the best sled design as well as the fastest. Go to online to register.

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Area businesses will have special Winter Fest promotions for residents throughout the day.

For more information, visit the Chamber website at and the Facebook page for the Chamber and Pine Island Image Committee at

Austin Utilities welcomes new employee relations director

AUSTIN — Austin Utilities announced the retirement of Employee Relations Director Kim Duncomb after 20 years of service.

"We appreciate the service she has provided to the community,” said Mark Nibaur, general manager at Austin Utilities.

Duncomb administered contracts and benefits for three unions as well as a companywide safety program in a heavily regulated industry. In 2020, Austin Utilities had zero OSHA recordable incidents.

Dan Ulland will replace Duncomb as the new employee relations director.

“We are happy to welcome Dan to the Austin Utilities team,” Nibaur said. “We look forward to his leadership.”

Ulland’s background includes more than 30 years of human resources experience across many industries. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management and has earned the certified employee benefits specialist designation awarded from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.

Austin Utilities is a municipal utility serving approximately 12,300 electric customers, 10,300 natural gas customers, and 9,000 water customers

SMIF awards $160,000 in Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grants

OWATONNA — Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, in partnership with Region Nine Development Commission and SE MN Together, recently approved 10 grants through its new Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grant program totaling $160,000.

Ten organizations have earned grants to develop or expand initiatives that increase equity and inclusion within communities or support entrepreneurs in communities of diverse backgrounds. Grants awarded include the following:

• $15,000 to the Rochester Diversity Council to provide cultural aptitude training opportunities to government agencies throughout 11 counties of southeastern Minnesota.

• $15,000 to Engage Winona to expand and sustain an immersive leadership program for community members to create a more systemic pathway to equitable engagement.

• $19,500 to Hispanic Community and Empowerment through Research to expand an entrepreneurial training program throughout the Region Nine counties.

• $20,000 to Somali American Social Service Association to train students in overcoming barriers to future economic success and support parents in learning.

• $20,000 to The Village Community Garden & Learning Center to increase capacity, knowledge and support for immigrant farmers in the Rochester area who grow culturally relevant food.

• $15,000 to Winona Area Public Schools Community Education to improve educational outcomes for refugee and immigrant students and identify ways in which the schools can make systemic changes to build a more welcoming, affirming and richer learning environment for all students.