Kjersti Bastian has lived in Renville County most of her life and is proud to call southwest Minnesota home. Kjersti is an executive administrative assistant at Renville County and lives in Fairfax with her husband, who farms nearby, and two young children.
“Everyone knows everyone and cares about each other. Our communities are strong, but we recognize that we need younger families to move here. They’re our future,” Kjersti said.
At Southwest Initiative Foundation, we know supporting our neighbors, entrepreneurs, small business owners and main streets is vital to maintaining a thriving economy and providing opportunities for economic mobility for our kids and families. It’s what our communities want, too, which is why we invite local units of government to partner with us by investing in SWIF’s economic development work. The financial partnerships and collaborative funding efforts from cities, counties and economic development authorities provide critical resources that are invested back into our communities.
“There’s so much important work being done behind the scenes that many people don’t know about,” Kjersti said.
In the early years after SWIF and the five other Minnesota Initiative Foundations were up and running, funders encouraged our board of directors to think about sustainability. After brainstorming and considering strong connection points, it was decided to approach local units of government.
Berdette Schoep was a board member from Clarkfield and interim executive director at SWIF when this strategy took shape. “Our board decided to divide up the region by county, and we each started approaching city councils, businesses and individuals to start fundraising,” he said.
“At that time, in southwest Minnesota charitable giving from units of governments and corporations was a new concept. But we ended up being successful because it’s an easy sell. When you support SWIF, you’re giving to your community where you work, where your children are growing up and you’re going to age. There are immediate benefits, but it’s also like planting a tree. It’s an investment and the next generation benefits,” Berdette said.
Today, local units of government continue to partner with SWIF by investing in business and workforce development efforts. Since the first appropriation was made by the City of Pipestone in 1989, investments from local units of government total just over $3.2 million to support economic development in our region. These dollars support people and projects that advance entrepreneurship, business retention and expansion, and the creation and retention of good jobs.
We’ve leveraged these appropriations immediately and over time to make the dollars go even further, deploying $56.6 million in loans and awarding $50.3 million in grants since our founding. Because city and county leaders partner with us, SWIF is able to support businesses and economic development through our Business Finance and Microenterprise Loan Programs, child care initiatives, workforce development, and more. Our work often intersects industries, county lines and communities, building bridges across our corner of the state.
Through his role at SWIF, Scott Marquardt sees how these partnerships are essential to leverage resources, coordinate efforts, and build trust in rural and economic development.
“I am grateful for the collaboration, support, and investment from our local units of government and economic development organizations. These visionary leaders acknowledge the critical importance of regional collaboration to help ensure our businesses can attract and retain the talent they need in a post-pandemic economy, that our children and families can thrive, and that all people who call southwest Minnesota home can achieve economic mobility,” Scott said.
Partnerships across Renville County
We are positioned to bring the right resources, people and inspiration together to ensure our region is a place where all people thrive. Here are some of our other partnerships from across Renville County.
Tony and Heidi Paskewitz opened Prairie Meats livestock processing plant and meat market in Olivia with help from around the region. Citizens Alliance Bank in Sacred Heart was the primary lender, along with Renville County Economic Development Authority, Olivia Economic Development Authority, Mid-Minnesota Development Commission and SWIF — plus an Agri Value-Added Equipment grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Kathy Wehking of Hector currently serves on our Board of Directors. Kathy is a retired educator. She and her husband, Rich, own and operate a crop farm outside Hector. Get to know Kathy and all our board members
Our team is currently working on child care initiatives in Renville County, including professional development support for child care professionals.
A longstanding partnership
Renville County has been a longtime partner in SWIF’s economic development work with the county or their HRA/EDA contributing more than $100,000 since 2003. In that time, the cities in the county have essentially matched that level of support in a collaborative effort to keep our economy and communities strong.
“Renville County is a special place. We are tight knit, and there’s a sense of community that you don’t get everywhere. You know your neighbors when you live in Renville County,” said Lisa Herges, Renville County Administrator. Lisa has been leading the county’s services and operations for nearly seven years and works closely with the Renville County Board of Commissioners.
She says the needs in the county are similar to many other rural communities: child care slots are hard to come by, the population is decreasing and businesses sometimes struggle to keep their doors open.
“We’re definitely focusing on these things. We’re committed to economic development and growth. We’re working hard, but we can’t fix everything. It’s nice to have partners who can step in and help when needed,” Lisa said.
Since inception, $3.3 million has been deployed in Renville County through our loan programs, including 26 microloans totaling $422,000 to small businesses. Through this program, SWIF provides customized technical assistance for the length of the loan to help clients improve their skills in financial management, operations, marketing and more. In addition to these investments, last year SWIF disbursed $241,388 in grants directly impacting Renville County to support community projects, nonprofits, churches, government entities and schools.
Longtime leaders, like Renville County Commissioner Randy Kramer, recognize collaboration is crucial in rural areas.
“SWIF helps put the pieces of the puzzle together when it comes to keeping southwest Minnesota and Renville County strong. We appreciate our partnership with SWIF and the work they’re doing to keep businesses in our communities,” Randy said.
You don’t have to be in local government to support this work!
Make a gift in support of SWIF’s economic development program
Local fund partners invest in Renville County
Renville County is home to our affiliate partners the Bird Island-Olivia Community Foundation and the Morton Area Community Foundation and three local education funds under our umbrella— the Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart Public School Foundation, the Renville County West Public School Foundation and the St. Mary’s School Foundation.
Collectively, they have disbursed more than $450,000 in grants for community improvement, education and extracurriculars, town beautification and more. Help respond to your town’s changing needs and opportunities by making a gift to your community foundation or another local fund.Donate Now