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Entrepreneurs in area cities will get REV'ed up

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Penny
We are part of The Trust Project.

At the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, we know that growth comes from within. In all of our programming, we aim to lift up the communities in our region by providing them with resources and a framework for success, but it is the people within our partner communities who ultimately create the future they want to see.

As we seek to increase our involvement in small towns with populations of 5,000 or less, I am excited to see energy building around our new Rural Entrepreneurial Venture program. REV is a unique, long-term commitment that focuses on developing processes and systems for sustainable economic growth in rural communities.

With REV, we are using a proven model for economic development from the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. The goal is to energize entrepreneurs within small towns, and organize leadership to assess current and future needs and build systems that will transform the economy. The towns that go through this process will start to see a more resilient economy with more diverse entrepreneurs, and will develop better resources to support entrepreneurs even when the economy is poor.

After reviewing applications from small towns across our southern Minnesota region, we chose five communities that exhibited a readiness to "grow their own" and work towards creating a climate where entrepreneurs will thrive. They are Lake City (Wabasha County), Lanesboro and Spring Valley (Fillmore County), Blue Earth (Faribault County), Le Sueur (Le Sueur County), and Spring Grove (Houston County). Our coaches -- SMIF staff and partners, along with the University of Minnesota Extension -- are committed to working with each of these communities for a three-year period.

We hit the ground running with REV at the beginning of the new year. Our coaches had their first meetings with core leadership teams in each town. Depending on the community, the teams are comprised of representatives from the Chambers of Commerce, City Councils, Economic Development Authorities, local businesses, and other community leaders.

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There have already been rich discussions from each group as a result of this important first step. In order to create a sustainable plan for the future, it is critical to review the opportunities that have led to successful environments for entrepreneurs in the past. In that same vein, the core leadership teams are also discussing the challenges that have historically created barriers for development.

Over the next few months, the core leadership teams will start to identify who the key entrepreneurs are in each town and where "energy areas" exist. These energy areas are where there is the greatest potential to build upon existing activity. The teams will dedicate their time to building capacity and recruiting more people to be actively involved in the process.

Change doesn't happen overnight, which is why it's important to set tangible goals in order to keep building momentum. It may take several years before an entrepreneurial ecosystem is thriving in each community, but we anticipate seeing positive change and progress at every stage.

Every town has different strengths and challenges, which is why the outcomes will look different in each community. But it is our view that no one knows how to build a future better than the people who live and work in these communities.

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