Tim Penny visits club

October 11, 2012

Tim Penny, former United States Congressman and current Executive Director of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, spoke to the Northfield Rotary Club at the October 4, 2012 meeting. The following is an excerpt from the club’sCogwheelprogram highlighting his speech:

Tim Penny looks pretty good for a recovering congressman. A self-described “raging moderate,” Tim represented the First Congressional District for 12 years from 1983 to 1995 and was known for mastering Washington’s opaque accounting practices. He was also a gubernatorial candidate in 2004, running under the Independent Party banner.

Since 2007, he has served as executive director of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), which promotes economic development in a 20-county area.

Tim said SMIF is not big, so they have to be smart about how they target their limited resources. The foundation trains its $5 million annual budget on two main initiatives: entrepreneur development and early childhood development. One is an investment in economic growth and job creation. The other is an investment in the people who will one day fill those jobs.

Work on the entrepreneurial side includes a micro-lending program and a revolving loan fund. More than $83 million has been invested in the region since SMIF’s inception in 1986. Tim pegs the return on those dollars at 14 to 1. SMIF allocates some $1.55 million each year to early childhood initiatives. Northfield has benefited from both of these areas of focus.

Tim said they encourage collaboration and weave it into everything they do. Grant recipients are encouraged to expand the circle when they are planning an initiative and to identify community assets before they proceed.

SMIF was launched with a McKnight Foundation grant, and the foundation still accounts for 20 percent of its funding. The other major sources are the SMIF $28 million endowment, the revolving loan fund, federal dollars and donations.

Megan Tsui, last week’s host, worked for Tim before she became executive director of the Northfield Enterprise Center. SMIF, along with the Northfield EDA, has funded SPUR, a co-worker site that also serves as a business incubator and accelerator. It is located above Jenkins Jewelers in downtown Northfield and offers workspace, meeting rooms and a collaborative culture.