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Initiative Fund helps Rushford evaluate their community

Fri, Feb 14th, 2003
Posted in Features

The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) presented their "site visit reflections" to the Rushford Community Thursday night at the Rushford-Peterson school theater to an audience of approximately twenty-four people. SMIF had visited Rushford for a day on November 18, 2002. At that time they met with twenty-six community members and discussed the civic, public service, and economic infrastructures of the city. After an additional two days of staff reflection, the SMIF team put together their preliminary impressions, acknowledging that more fact finding and more input of finite information was needed.In these reflections, SMIF found Rushford’s strengths to include: • people committed to getting things done well;•varied community based organizations such as EDA, service clubs, and religious organizations;•diversity of jobs which aid the economy and lead to a viable economic community; •strong educational system with school-to-work, higher education availability, early childhood classes & longevity of staff in the K-12 school;• aesthetics of the natural environment;• quality of life with a safe environment and recreational opportunities;• a local clinic and an airport;• communication resources such as DSL and a local newspaper.At this point in the presentation, it seemed as though SMIF was describing Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above-average." SMIF went on, though, to reflect on the weaknesses or "threats to the viability" of Rushford. These threats included:•public sector efficiency including the tax burden, conflict between governmental units, and lack of city/school/business partnership;• educational costs and needs including school funding and facilities, decline in enrollment and technology needs;•housing affordability and rental availability;•employment (especially employment opportunities for families and young people);• lack of diversity;• isolationism with a resistance to broader perspectives of the "outside" world;• lack of structure to develop community leaders.SMIF did not end on that note, but rather went on to detail the opportunities offered, suggesting the following possibilities:• community collaboration and effectiveness could be increased by coordinating youth services and activities, creating partnerships between school/community/business, and encouraging more collaboration between services and organizations;•educational opportunities including a regional math/science partnership, and technology advances;• economic development possibilities including more development of tourism, more housing and types of housing, striving to encourage young people to stay in Rushford;• development of community leadership by establishing a structure to encourage leaders.SMIF presenters pointed out that Rushford is unique because it has a healthy retail and service business unlike many rural communities and encouraged Rushford to use plans already in place such as the current comprehensive plan and the plans that resulted from the work of the MN Design Team and Community Housing Assessment Team.Kristen Numedahl, vice president of programs of SMIF, outlined the help that SMIF was offering. This included Citizens-in-Action which would be five community sessions to help prepare for sustainable leadership; Non-Profit Assessment of Business Incubator which would consist of two on-site sessions and up to three days of one-on-one technical assistance; and Business Development Technical Assistance which would supply an advisor ad hoc member of the Board for up to one year.Numedahl went on to explain the expectations of the community which would include a resolution from EDA and the Board of Community Foundation, a commitment from the community to "full and sincere participation to the process," and an identification of two people to commit to an ongoing relationship with SMIF.Following the presentation, the audience was broken into small groups to discuss the report and give their input. Mike Sexhauer, housing developer, added the following strengths to the Rushford’s list: availability of job opportunities, untapped recreational activities, and the central location to LaCrosse, Winona, and Rochester. Kevin Klungtvedt felt another weakness of Rushford was the lack of the availability of venture capital and mentioned the need for innovations to leverage capital. Other weaknesses observed were the potential loss of retail businesses and the fact that Rushford is hard to come into as an outsider because of perceived cliques.The audience looked at opportunities as well, noting possible collaboration between Rushford, Rushford Village, and Peterson as well as with the county, specialization in agriculture and other business opportunities (breakfast restaurants, clothing stores, etc.), and housing aimed at aging baby boomers.Other segments of Rushford’s population that the audience felt should be consulted included retirees and youth. Jim Hoiness, owner of Rushford IGA, suggested these groups should have their own meetings to gather their opinions, stressing the need to provide services for both groups. Larry Bartelson, city administrator, closed the meeting by thanking the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation representatives and commenting, "You are one of the best consultants we’ve hired in years—and we aren’t even paying you!" To read the entire report and add your own opinion, go to Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s website at after Monday.

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