June 2021
Region Nine Welcome New Commissioners
Region Nine would like to welcome and introduce our newest commissioners! Learn more about each commissioner below.
Tim Auringer, Blue Earth County; Cities under 10,000

Tim is currently serving as mayor of Eagle Lake and has held this position for 16 years. Before that, Tim served as a City Council member for two years. Tim has served in many leadership positions in the community, including president of the Mankato Builders Exchange, a youth sports coach, and positions in his church as a church board member and youth group leader for Sunday school. Tim has lived in Mankato/Eagle Lake for his entire life. Tim is devoted to ensuring that small cities' voices are presented to the Full Commission and other decision-makers.
Calvin Howard, Faribault County; Cities under 10,000

Calvin has served on City Council in Winnebago for two years. Calvin is also a member of the American Legion. He has lived in the area for 27 years and is hoping to give Winnebago and the surrounding area a larger voice.
Dawn Kratzke, Sibley County; Cities under 10,000

Dawn was elected as mayor of Gaylord in November 2020 and is currently serving in that position. Dawn has served in many leadership positions in the community, including member of Gaylord's Park Board for 9 years (2011-2020), member of Sibley East Community Education Advisory Committee, and a member of Sibley East Strategic Planning Committee. Dawn is hoping to build connections between the surrounding communities that have a lot to offer one another in terms of growth and opportunities.
Keira Oeltjenbruns, Le Sueur County (Saint Peter High School); High School Age Youth

For the past 3 1/2 years, Keira has volunteered as a vacation Bible school teacher and Sunday school teacher. She also is an active member of her student council, volleyball mentor/big sister for four younger girls and is a leader in two clubs, called mental warriors and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Keira is looking forward to getting more involved in her community and the region by giving input on what is going on at the high school level.
Recognizing Outgoing Region Nine Youth Commissioner

Written by Claudia Partridge, RNDC Intern
Maya Englehorn is the outgoing High School Youth Commissioner for Region Nine Development Commission. Maya is a rising senior at Mankato West High School and is devoted to public service and community leadership. Her service as a commissioner provided her a two-year opportunity to participate firsthand in local government and politics. It gave her an up-close view at economic development work on a regional level. Through her term, she witnessed the proactive attitude of her fellow commissioners in collectively creating innovative solutions to community issues involving, but not limited to, racial inequities and women’s rights. She will carry this proactive attitude forward to her future career in activism. To further her goal of becoming a leading activist, she is interested in studying Global Leadership and is excited to see what the future holds. Maya along with six of her classmates recently got awarded the Spirit of Youth award. The Spirit of Youth award is sponsored by Mankato Community Education & Recreation Advisory Council and is awarded to excellent youth/youth organizations for their work in building resources for youth over the past year. Maya was selected on behalf of a new high school group named Moving our Futures Forward (MOFF). The group organizes events and discussions about ongoing social justice and racial equity issues. They are currently running a petition that calls for the eradication of restrictive covenants in housing deeds that forbid the sale of homes to religious minorities and African Americans in the city of Mankato. MOFF can be found on Instagram under the handle movingourfuturesforward.
Region Nine Hosts Focused Discussions on Housing
Region Nine is currently conducting stakeholder outreach for the regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a plan document that guides regional economic development activities and enables Region Nine to continue receiving support from EDA. In our initial outreach, several topics emerged as high priority for our stakeholders. Across stakeholders from all over the region in a wide variety of industries, the priority mentioned the most was housing.

The CEDS team decided to take a deeper dive into the housing needs of Region Nine, so the team hosted a focused discussion on housing. In this discussion, stakeholders noted the lack of affordable housing in the region. Beyond that, however, stakeholders mentioned that there is actually a need for additional housing at all income levels. The team and stakeholders also discussed possible solutions to the region’s housing shortages. The City of St. Peter’s Traverse Green subdivision model was mentioned as a strategy that has helped build workforce housing, but as the cost of construction and materials outpaces the growth of wages, even this once successful model is facing challenges. The CEDS team also discussed Headwaters Regional Development Commission’s approach to solve housing shortages in their service area by creating their own non-profit housing development corporation and partnering with local developers and high school construction classes to build affordable homes. Even this model has seen challenges with the skyrocketing prices of timber, however. Community land trusts were also mentioned as an affordable housing solution since these have helped with affordable housing in the Twin Cities, Rochester, Duluth, and several counties in Central Minnesota. It is clear that access to housing will continue to be a high priority in the region as rental vacancies remain low and construction prices continue to increase.

The CEDS team is continuing to conduct focused meetings based on the priorities identified by regional stakeholders. These include healthcare, broadband, childcare, and education/growing and maintaining a skilled workforce. If you are interested in joining these discussions or having a one-on-one conversation about any of these issues, please contact Joel Hanif at joel@rndc.org or via telephone at 507-389-8870.
Conversations with staff from Congresswoman Fischbach's Office
On June 8, 2021, Executive Director Griensewic met with Cory Becker of Congresswoman Fischbach’s office.

During this meeting, Region Nine gave an overview of the organization and our work, highlighting projects such as MedTech Connect and the importance of the manufacturing industry and its workforce needs and Welcoming Communities programs as it relates to economic development. Federal projects such as the rail in Sibley county, RIS fiber project, and the need for broadband infrastructure and expansion were also discussed.

Click the buttons below to see labor data and findings that were discussed during this meeting.
A Look at Workforce Shortages in Minnesota
Written by Alejandra Bejarano, Lead for MN Fellow
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted unique and unprecedented economic challenges. The unemployment rate is still higher than before the outbreak of the pandemic, yet employers around the nation are having difficulties filling positions. Greater Minnesota is undergoing similar trends, as it continues to experience widespread worker shortages despite the climb in unemployment caused by the pandemic. According to the Center for Rural Policy & Development, "the workforce shortage that has plagued rural employers for the past ten years continues." (Asche & Werner, 2021)

Recent data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) shows the shifts in labor force participation rates from 2018 through 2021. As figure 1 shows, the labor force participation rate in the state has declined steadily since June 2020 (Fig. 1), and it reached its lowest rate in January 2021 since the pandemics’ onset.
Figure 1: Minnesota Labor Force Trends, 2018-2021. Graph from Shawn Herhusky and Carson Gorecki, More than Simple Supply and Demand. DEED. June 2021
This unique economic landscape of workers entering the unemployment pool and increasing job vacancies could represent an opportunity for employers. Nonetheless, it requires innovative approaches to leverage and mobilize existing talent that center on upskilling and retraining programs, flexible work arrangements, childcare assistance, transportation, and other support services that address employment-related needs and help employers and employees navigate their way through the "new normal."
Asche, K., Werner, M. (2021) Pandemic paints a different employment picture in rural Minnesota. Center for Rural Policy and Development.
Herhusky, S., Gorecki, C. (2021) More than Simple Supply and Demand. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED)
Prosperity Initiative
The Prosperity Initiative has accepted four applications for the program and looking to add more entrepreneur who are interested in having a professional business coach help them with their business. The Prosperity Initiative promotes inclusive entrepreneurship and supports the growth of businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in southern Minnesota. The program provides regular education, coaching, and business resources to BIPOC business owners in Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation 20-county region.

Prosperity Initiative clients receive the following to help turn business dreams into reality:

  • Support from a professional business coach to set goals and work towards achieving them.
  • Access to marketing assistance, Quick Books training, financial planning, tax preparation, and more.
  • Business planning software, website hosting and design services, and other crucial business tools.

This is a collaborative program of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA), Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce, Hourglass Consulting, Region Nine Development Commission and Rochester Diversity Council. This program is made possible by generous funding from Dan and Angie Bastian and Target Foundation.

If you know someone interested in this program or have questions, contact Linda Wallace, Prosperity Initiative Advisory Committee member, at ljwall@rndc.org.
Rural Entrepreneurship Venture
The Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) program has completed six months of the three-year program to find and ignite existing entrepreneurs in communities. The program is about adopting a “grow your own” approach to entrepreneur development, the REV model helps community grow from within. The REV program helps rural communities create more vibrant economies by finding and supporting local entrepreneurs – from business startups to existing businesses that want to grow.

The communities participating in the 2021 – 2023 REV cohort includes Montgomery (Le Sueur County), Springfield (Brown County), Wells (Faribault County), and Mapleton (in collaboration with the additional Maple River School District communities of Amboy, Good Thunder and Minnesota Lake – Blue Earth/Faribault Counties).

A full REV Cohort meeting was held on May 13, 2021. This meeting included the first REV cohort (Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Lanesboro, Spring Valley, Lake City, Spring Grove). Guest speaker was Todd Churchill, BizOps Chief Financial Officer, from Rochester, Minnesota. Todd works to help clients build, improve, and drive their business goals forward. Todd spoke on “Don’t Sit on The Fence: Get Big or Find Your Niche (s)”.

Benjamin Winchester, Extension Educator, Evaluation and Rural Sociology, and Scott Chazdon, Evaluation and Research Specialist, from the University of Minnesota Extension, Community Vitality, shared the finding from the Entrepreneurial Confidence Index (ECI). The communities now participating in the REV program send the survey to all community members through social media. The Entrepreneurial Community Culture Index survey was made up of 22 questions measuring: Business Promotion, Diversity and Change, Focus on Local and Business Discouragement. Each community received a booklet with the results for their community. The big question from the survey was “Who is the elite?”. The survey will be done again in 2022.

Each community gave an update on their REV program. Communities were mixed into breakout groups to learn from each other. The next full REV Cohort meeting will be August 26, 2021.

Interested in learning more about the REV program? Contact Linda Wallace, Wells REV Coach, at ljwall@rndc.org.
Region Nine Joins CSM Partnership
Climate-Smart Municipalities (CSM) is a multi-partner inter-generational collaboration between Minnesota and Germany with twelve cities at its core.

CSM connects diverse international stakeholders and leaders in local and state government, politics, business, the nonprofit sector, academia, and the public to learn from each other and to accelerate the transition to a more efficient and climate-friendly energy future at the local level. Sustainability, climate protection, climate adaptation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are central topics for this international exchange.

Partner Organizations
Check out CSM's new website at https://www.climatesmart-mn.org/!
The CSM project is a part of the International Energy Partnerships Project at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. CSM is supported with funding from Germany's Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) through the European Recovery Program's (ERP) Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Region Nine Pursues SolSmart Designation
Region Nine is pursuing SolSmart designation from the Solar Foundation and International City/County Management Association. SolSmart is a program funded by the US Department of Energy that helps cities, counties, and regions eliminate unnecessary paperwork, red tape, and other cost-increasing requirements that inhibit solar developments of all scales.

SolSmart uses certain criteria to evaluate its designees and awards municipalities and regional organizations with three possible designations: bronze, silver, or gold. All designees must complete foundational prerequisites that include a solar statement, planning and zoning guidance, an inspection checklist, a training on permitting and the SolSmart process, and community engagement. Beyond this, municipalities and regions can accrue points toward their designation by satisfying additional criteria in planning, solar rights, utility and community engagement, market development and finance, and innovative actions.

As part of its pursuit of SolSmart designation, Region Nine recently collaborated with Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), SolSmart, and the Great Plains Institute to host a regional training on solar permitting. Bill Brooks, a nationally recognized specialist with over 32 years of experience designing, installing, and evaluating grid-connected photovoltaic systems, gave a presentation explaining best practices in solar permitting to a group of officials and stakeholders from Region Nine’s service area and beyond.

For questions about SolSmart, contact Joel Hanif at joel@rndc.org or via telephone at 507-389-8870.
The Lending Specialist will assist in the administration of the Revolving Loan Fund program, and other duties as it relates to fostering entrepreneurship and providing access to capital. This position will facilitate a department transition of the program and will advance to the primary administrator of the lending program.

Work areas may include providing technical assistance to local units of government, businesses, and the general public on a variety of planning and development topics, such as Revolving Loan Funds, economic development, workforce development, and community development.
Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm- In a quest to provide a unique outdoor experience for visitors, utilize the beautiful land they inhabit, connect with their local farming community, and grow agritourism in the Waseca area, Bill Bartz and Emily Knudsen dreamed up and brought to life the Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm.

Bosphorus Gyros & Kebabs- A family owned restaurant offering authentic Mediterranean style food serving greater Mankato from two locations, River Hills Mall and 551 Belle Avenue.

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In the Media
Region 9 director named first female chair of U of M Center for Transportation Studies Executive Committee- Read More

Griensewic appointed first female chair of CTS executive committee- Read More
$$ Grant Opportunities $$
Small Town Grant Program

Small communities are the fabric of our region, yet sometimes lack the financial resources to build on the assets and uniqueness of their communities. Economic and community changes are inevitable. SMIF believes communities have the ability and leadership to adapt to these changes given the proper resources.

The Small Town Grant Program supports projects which identify ways to boost the well-being of individuals and quality of life in small communities. SMIF seeks projects which foster community engagement and collaboration that impacts the culture, education, economy and/or social aspects of the town.

Communities with populations of 10,000 or less in SMIF’s 20-county region are eligible to apply.

Deadline: July 15, 2021
Healthy Housing Grants

The Minnesota Department of Health Lead and Healthy Homes Program (LHHP) is announcing the availability of healthy housing grants for the 2021–2023 grant period. The Healthy Housing Grants are intended to provide funding to perform activities related to housing-based health threats.

The total amount of the grant funding for the entire grant period (October 1, 2021–June 30, 2023) is $720,000. This will be distributed to grantees at amounts up to $120,000 per grantee total, over two years. The grant funds are dependent upon the appropriation of funds by the state legislature to the Department of Health. Any awarding of final grant agreements as a result of this RFP process is subject to final approval by the Commissioner of Health.

Deadline: July 21, 2021
Calendar of Events
July 5: Office Closed
About Region Nine
Region Nine Development Commission takes great pride in working with and on behalf of counties, cities, townships, and schools throughout South Central Minnesota. Since 1972, being a partner for progress has led to the development of programs and identification of solutions in the areas of economic development, business development, healthy communities, transportation, community development, and leveraging regional resources. To learn more about our work and mission, visit www.rndc.org.
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