Casting Creations, Howard Lake
Casting Creations received a small business relief grant distributed by the Initiative Foundation.

Relief Grants Send $16.2M to Businesses

LITTLE FALLS, MN—A two-plus-year collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has culminated in more than $16 million delivered to 1,500-plus Central Minnesota small businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Initiative Foundation, through collaborative partnerships with state and federal organizations, has pivoted to drive grants and loans to where they are most needed.

“Central Minnesota business owners have suffered losses, supply chain challenges and other difficulties as we’ve navigated through these times,” said Matt Varilek, Initiative Foundation president. “These grants didn’t completely solve the economic strain on local businesses, but we hope they offered some relief to help them get through the disruptions.”

In August 2020, the Initiative Foundation began awarding grants to businesses hardest hit by the pandemic through DEED’s Small Business Relief Grant program. The 2020 effort ended with $7.4 million awarded to 742 small businesses. Work continued in late 2021 on a second round of small business relief grants and wrapped up in June 2022. That effort saw a total of $8.8 million distributed to 785 Central Minnesota businesses. All told, the project delivered $16.24 million to 1,527 businesses.

“This is by far the largest granting effort in the Foundation’s 36-year history,” Varilek said. “Delivering these grants was an organization-wide effort, and we’re so proud to have played a role in supporting these resilient entrepreneurs and business owners across our region as they confronted unimaginable challenges and changes these past two years.”

The 2021-2022 round of small business relief grants was part of a $64.2 million Minnesota Main Street COVID Relief Grants program approved by the Minnesota Legislature and managed by DEED. Businesses had to prove pandemic-related hardship or show that a government order forced them to close or limit operations. Eligible applicants received between $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the number of people employed. The Initiative Foundation and its five Minnesota Initiative Foundation partners were responsible for delivering relief grants in Greater Minnesota.

“The Initiative Foundation has been a critical partner to DEED on a number of programs, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “These grants will help create jobs, and they’ll help spark investment in key commercial corridors – leading to economically thriving and vibrant communities in Central Minnesota.”

The Initiative Foundation’s 14-county service area includes Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the sovereign tribal nations of the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe.

“Delivery of these small business relief grants represents a more than 450 percent increase over our normal grantmaking efforts for a similar time period,” Varilek said. “It’s been an honor to serve the region through this partnership with DEED and to attract much-needed support for our businesses and nonprofits.”

Download a map of the Initiative Foundation’s 2020 Small Business Relief Grants distribution.

Download a map of the Initiative Foundation’s 2021-2022 Minnesota Main Street COVID Relief Grants distribution.