August 2020
RNDC Welcomes New Staff!
Marjorie Zoe Negrón Muñoz joined RNDC in August 2020 as our first ever Rural Equity Specialist. She collaborates with community leaders and organizations to increase equity and inclusion among the region's diverse and at-risk individuals.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Marjorie is a native Spanish and English speaker; she also can communicate in Italian, Portuguese and French. She holds two bachelor's degrees in communications and theater arts, and she has an associate's degree in Romance languages. Marjorie brings more than a decade of media, arts and events experience to RNDC—expertise she leverages to organize impactful community forums and facilitate productive conversations; as well as her personal experiences and her passion for travel, learning and documenting other cultures. 

Sam Smith joined RNDC this August as an Economic Resiliency Specialist. Previously, Smith joined RNDC as a part-time employee in March 2018. Smith has worked in rural business development and nonprofit leadership throughout southern Minnesota since 2010 after a five-year career as an award-winning newspaper reporter. He has supported growth at organizations as large as Mayo Clinic and as small as a corner grocery store. Throughout, his interests have focused on the intersection of entrepreneurship and sustainable development. He holds a B.A. in English, pre-medicine from University of Illinois and an M.S. in journalism.
Alejandra Bejarano joined RNDC this August 2020 as part of the Lead for Minnesota fellowship program. Alejandra was already working with RNDC as an intern on various economic development projects. She is enthusiastic about continuing to work with RNDC in creating vibrant and resilient communities. Alejandra just graduated with a Masters in Public Administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Alejandra hails from Colombia and moved to the United States at a young age to play college tennis. Having a deep interest in research, Alejandra did her capstone project on corruption and institutional trust. She has diverse background experience in both the private and public sectors and is passionate about exploring new cultures, as she speaks multiple languages.
Monali Bhakta joined RNDC this August 2020 to serve as a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Community Catalyst, for her Lead for Minnesota fellowship program. She recently graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College double majoring in Political Science and English. Bhakta is grateful to have testified in front of the Minnesota Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, advocating for increased funding toward the MN State Grant Program. Another highlight of her campus involvement was serving as the Co-President of the Student Senate during her Senior year where she promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion as a main part of her platform.
Tele-Mental Health Portal helping reach folks in Region Nine
Region Nine serves the following counties: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Wantonwan. They have created a portal that provides referrals and access to mental health services. Actually better than that – they didn’t create anything, they found a solution with Direct Assessments and Counseling. It’s been a great way to reach community members who can be geographically out of reach. And it’s been a great way to connect those people (and others) to providers and counselors who do not necessarily live in the area.
COVID-19 Testing
Starting in late June, RNDC has been supporting the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in mass testing sites, assessing site functionality, and reporting back to remote planners who identify site capacity. County Public Health and Emergency Management who note spikes in hospitalizations request the SEOC support to their county for mass testing with rapid response. Initially providing support for Madelia and St. James, RNDC, with funding from the state, has now expanded to St. Louis County (Chisholm), Wabasha County (Plainview), McLeod County (Glencoe), and Ramsey County Head Start Program (PICA).
Testing sites are of two designs: drive-up (individual does not leave their vehicle) and park and walk (touchless manner of testing in a building such as a gym). Tests are analyzed for COVID-19 by Mayo Clinic who reported the results to the individuals within 72 hours, negative results, via electronic means. For those who tested positive for COVID, a public health nurse contacted the individual personally by phone to assess their current conditions, quarantine measures, and follow-up care.
RNDC is currently working with the Great Plains Institute to pursue SolSmart designation from the United States Department of Energy.  SolSmart designation is a recognition of cities, counties, and regional organizations that help make solar access faster, easier, and more affordable to their residents.
The SolSmart program was launched in 2016, and to date, over 300 cities and counties have received SolSmart designation. However, a pathway for regional organizations to pursue SolSmart designation was not established until 2019. With a successful application, RNDC will be one of only a handful of regional organizations in the country to receive the designation.
Region Nine includes 9 counties, 72 cities, and 147 townships with a variety of differing land use regulations and procedures regarding solar. RNDC hopes to serve as a nexus of information and guidance for any residents, businesses, and governments in the region interested in installing solar.

Interested in learning more? Contact Joel Hanif, community development planner, at
Rural Minnesota Social Justice Champions and Equity Advocates, please join us for a series of interactive explorations to identify, nurture, model and advance actions that support a rural Minnesota that is safe, inclusive and prosperous for all. Offered free of charge by the TRUE Partnership*, our intention to host a future in-person gathering that builds on the relationships and co-learning created during this time of physical distancing.
Hosted by Minnesota Humanities Center CEO Kevin Lindsey

Discussing how to create a greater understanding of equity for the purposes of the TRUE Tuesdays sessions and within each of our organizations is a good place to begin! We’ll use the video, “Equity 101: Starting the Equity Conversation”, hosted by Asail Waters and Ana Moreno of the National Equity Project, as a guide for our small group conversations. We hope you will join us as we build and broaden our learning community!
Every third Tuesday, we will offer an opportunity for rural Minnesota social justice champions and equity advocates to explore challenging issues within a supportive learning community. Here’s a peek at the sessions we are designing. Full descriptions are being written and information will eventually be housed on a TRUE Tuesdays web page.
*TRUE Partnership is an informal alliance of organizations: Blandin Foundation, Center for Community Vitality U of M Extension, Minnesota Council on Foundations, Minnesota Humanities Center, Region Five Development Commission, Region Nine Development Commission, Southwest Initiative Foundation, and Voices for Racial Justice.

For more information, please contact Becky at
Rural Entrepreneurial Venture Launches Podcast Series
The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) will be beginning its second round of the Rural Entrepreneurial Venture (REV) program that helps rural communities create more vibrant economies by finding and supporting local entrepreneurs - from business startups to existing businesses that want to grow. Each community will develop a leadership team and be matched with a coach, SMIF partners with RNDC and the University of Minnesota Extension for coaching support, to guide them through goal setting and action steps. They will also participate in cohort learning with other REV communities.

MinnePod, which gathers stories about community from Minnesotans living in rural and urban areas around the state, will host a seven episode series about the REV program from August – October, 2020. Click the button below to listen to Episode 1 where Pam Bishop, Vice President of Economic Development at SMIF, discusses what REV is all about.
Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Launches Statewide Speed Test Initiative
In the Media
Child care need growing in Greater Minnesota- Read more

2020 Greater Mankato Cohort Announced for the MN Young American Leaders Program- Read more

St. Clair couple befriends international students- Read more
$$ Grant Opportunities $$
Intercultural Harmony Initiative

The LAURA JANE MUSSER FUND supports projects that promote mutual understanding and cooperation between groups of community members of different cultural backgrounds. Project planning grants up to $5,000 or implementation grants up to $25,000 will be considered. New programs or projects in their first three years are eligible. Applications will be accepted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, 2020.

Deadline: October 15
Grain Storage Facility Safety Cost-Share

Minnesota farmers who want to add safety equipment to their on-farm grain storage facilities can now apply for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) new Grain Storage Facility Safety Cost-Share program.

The program reimburses up to 75 percent of the cost to buy, ship, and install eligible safety equipment for on-farm grain bins or silos. The program will pay up to $400 per bin or silo, with a limit of $2,400 per farm per year. The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $50,000 for this new program earlier this year.

Deadline: June 30
Calendar of Events
About Region Nine
Region Nine Development Commission takes great pride in working with and on behalf of counties, cities, townships, and schools throughout South Central Minnesota. Since 1972, being a partner for progress has led to the development of programs and identification of solutions in the areas of economic development, business development, healthy communities, transportation, community development, and leveraging regional resources. To learn more about our work and mission, visit
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