“We have 162 towns in our 14 county region, with 60% of them having a population of less than 1,000.” John Kalliszewski, head of the Initiative Foundation (www.ifound.org) in Little Falls, MN (population 7,719) was telling me about his very innovative foundation that was set up in 1986 by William McKnight, one of the 3M founders. Endowed at $37 million it is one of six that McKnight set up throughout the state, keeping all of the foundations regional in approach.
One of their major initiatives is a $10 million economic development loan pool that is primarily focused upon manufacturing in the region. The Initiative Foundation also has a focus upon the creation of intellectual property in the region, funding a special technology capital fund.
Kalliszewski spoke in particular about two MN towns that they had assisted, “We started working in Wadena, MN, a town of about 3,500. The wife of one of the town’s bankers brought up the idea of redoing their downtown. We told them it would probably take $3 million to do what they envisioned. The put together $3.5 million to make their downtown into a jewel. And, this is a town that isn’t on either a lake or an interstate, which many people up here think is critical. Wadena today has an incubator for entrepreneurs that has helped to start 20 or 25 new businesses. They have redone their old railroad depot into a convention center and have started a new youth center, called the Youth Café.”
“Another example is Taylor Falls, MN which has less than 1,000 people. They sit on the St. Croix River. They decided to turn their downtown around so that it faced the river. They build a boardwalk on the river side and have completely redone the image of their community.”
I’d love to visit both of these towns and to learn more about the Initiative Foundation. Stories like this continue to amaze me as I travel around the USA.