Regional Highlights

“The Initiative Foundation (has) provided critical support to businesses and organizations in rural Minnesota, ultimately making our communities more resilient and sustainable during unprecedented challenges. Their support has been invaluable to my retail business.”

– Judith Kissner, Scout & Morgan Books, Cambridge

Children play at the Upsala playground

MORRISON COUNTY | A Playground for All in Upsala
Swing over to the Upsala Elementary School playground, which is now accessible to children of all abilities. The 30-year-old playground had fallen into disrepair and lacked easy access for students in wheelchairs. Thanks to a hard-working committee and the support of generous donors, including the Morrison County Area Foundation, a Partner Fund of the Initiative Foundation, the playground is now a fun space for all!

TODD COUNTY | Spreading Hope to Spanish-speaking Victims
Hands of Hope Resource Center is a safety net for people affected by crime and abuse in Todd and Morrison counties. The organization had struggled to serve Spanish-speaking victims, but that changed when it received Otto Bremer Trust funding administered by the Initiative Foundation to hire Rocío Fernández Lugo as a bilingual advocate. The organization used additional grant funding from the Initiative Foundation to translate its website and printed materials into Spanish.


WADENA COUNTY | Education Fund Gives Students in Need a Hand Up
More than 30 Verndale Christian Academy students facing challenges received tuition-matching funds from the Ellen McGregor Endowment for Education Fund. McGregor started the Initiative Foundation-hosted fund in June 2022 to help students who face physical, emotional, behavioral, academic and socio-economic challenges. “I just want them to be blessed,” said McGregor.

Bryce Kilian
MILLE LACS: Bryce Kilian built his career skills by working at Cub Foods in Baxter for three years.

CASS COUNTY | Grants Help Pine River Businesses Renew, Reinvigorate
Pine River-area businesses stand to receive an economic boost of more than $425,000 through the Initiative Foundation-administered Minnesota Main Street Economic Revitalization Program. The grants cover nearly one-third of costs for projects that include parking lot improvements at Central Minnesota Dermatology; carpeting and other updates at Associates in Eyecare; and commercial building renovations on Barclay Avenue. Updates to convert a former ALCO building to a Tractor Supply Company have been completed.

CROW WING COUNTY | Online Opportunity Opens Youth Career Options
Why wait for college to settle on a career path? Bridges Career Depot is an online platform that helps middle and high school students start their search by serving up first-time job opportunities. Students aged 14 to 18 can use filters to zero in on their preferences—everything from customer experience associate to lifeguard to landscaping assistant. An Initiative Foundation grant to the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce helped to launch the program.

MILLE LACS COUNTY | Book Distribution Puts Kids at Center of Story
Reach Out and Read Minnesota believes children should see themselves reflected in the books they read. With grant support from the Initiative Foundation, the organization is distributing Ojibwe-language books to Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Band children and making Spanish- and Somali-language books available during Stearns County well-child clinic visits.

SHERBURNE: A July 2022 St. Cloud EV expo featured vehicles available for a test drive.

BENTON COUNTY | Benton Puts Focus on Felon-Friendly Path to Work
Benton County employers are exploring an untapped talent pool—people recently released from incarceration. The Benton Economic Partnership (BEP) will work with the Central Minnesota Re-entry Project over the next three years to explore transitional housing, transportation and workforce credentialing. The goal is to create a stable path for workers who are motivated to learn and to address the need for reliable employees, particularly in the construction field.

SHERBURNE COUNTY | High-speed Electric Vehicle Charging Comes to Becker
Electric vehicle (EV) owners cruising by Becker High School will be able to charge their vehicles starting this spring. Supported by a $40,000 Initiative Foundation grant, funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Climate and Energy Program, and a $70,000 Xcel Energy grant, the high-speed station will increase area charging options and encourage more people to consider EVs. An Aug. 5 expo in Elk River will feature EVs available for test drives.

STEARNS COUNTY | New Events Center Opens on St. Cloud’s South Side
Local entrepreneurs have come together to create an events center along Roosevelt Road in south St. Cloud. The first phase of the Capital Event Center opened in June 2022. Additional plans call for a restaurant, coffee shop and space for retail and professional services. The project was supported by an Initiative Foundation loan. Other recent Initiative Foundation loans in Stearns County support Jules’ Bistro in St. Cloud, Holdingford Hardware, and Savanna Prairie Assisted Living in Kimball.

WRIGHT COUNTY | Help Wanted: Small Business Successors
The last of the baby-boom generation will reach retirement age in a few short years. While that introduces the golden years for some, it likely means many small businesses will go up for sale or face closure. The University of Minnesota Extension partnered with the Initiative Foundation and Wright County Economic Development Partnership for a February rural business succession and transition workshop. The event was attended by community leaders who gleaned insights to keep local businesses thriving.

ISANTI: New Pathways in Cambridge remodeled its space to make it more welcoming.

CHISAGO COUNTY | Chisago County Makes Inroads on Childcare Shortage
An Initiative Foundation grant and a First Children’s Finance partnership is helping Chisago County address its urgent need for 1,500 additional childcare slots for newborns to 5-year-olds. A countywide team has identified several local solutions—from establishing partnerships with local churches to using common space for multiple childcare providers—and plans to use American Rescue Plan Act money to fund its top initiatives.

ISANTI COUNTY | New Pathways, Donors Celebrate Homier Shelter Space
New Pathways in Cambridge provides housing for homeless families with children in a five-county area. Executive Director MaryAnn Westlund dreamed of upgrading the shelter’s daytime space. With the skills and confidence gained by attending the Initiative Foundation’s Fundraising School, Westlund and her team rallied donors to raise $46,000. The effort also generated more than 750 hours of volunteer time and led to a thorough remodel, making the space much more welcoming.

KANABEC COUNTY | Loan Helps Meat Market Remain a Mora Mainstay
K&R Retail Meats in Mora opened its doors more than 10 years ago with a range of fresh and smoked meats, jerky, beef sticks, seafood—and a deli that serves daily lunch specials. A recent lending partnership with the Initiative Foundation and First Citizens Bank helped a long-time employee buy into the business, ensuring that quality cuts and comfort-food offerings will continue to be a mainstay in Mora.

PINE COUNTY | Manufacturers Optimistic Despite Looming Challenges
The Initiative Foundation was proud to partner with Pine Technical and Community College in December to host Enterprise Minnesota and the reveal of its 2022 State of Manufacturing survey results. The survey tracks annual trends, outlooks and conditions and cites guarded optimism among manufacturing executives despite concerns about a potential recession and worker shortages. Central Minnesota manufacturers expressed additional concern about supply chain issues and economic and global uncertainty.

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Regional Highlights

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Regional Highlights

Get the latest highlights from Central Minnesota’s 14 counties and two sovereign tribal nations. Read More

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