December 2020
Region Nine's 2020 Annual Report
As we conclude a historic year shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, Region Nine Development Commission (RNDC) has worked diligently to serve our nine-county region in an unprecedented time. The Lake Crystal Strategic Economic Development Plan and Kiester Action Plan reflect RNDC’s commitment to form robust strategies that revitalize small towns.

In order to maximize safety and well-being, we completed a comprehensive Safe Routes to School (SRTS) plan to invest in infrastructure, so it is easier for youth to attend school. In this Fiscal Year 2020 Report, you will find examples of our team's efforts to establish partnerships with diverse stakeholders to advance long-lasting progress across the region.
We were also awarded the 6th consecutive Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) for our innovative approach to stimulate critical medical device manufacturing activities in South Central Minnesota.
RNDC was also granted the opportunity to feature the region’s clean energy and climate change initiatives through the Minnesota Department of Commerce State Energy Office’s Clean Energy Community Education Grant Program as well as a Clean Energy Tour through the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment exchange program with Germany.

The team strives to develop new projects and programs, while forming meaningful partnerships to improve the lives of all residents in our nine-county region. Thank you for a great 2020, and I am eager to see the partnerships and new opportunities that 2021 brings.


Nicole Griensewic
Executive Director
Region Nine and MNSU-Mankato Partner to Assess Future Programming Opportunities
RNDC is working on a comprehensive market analysis with MNSU-Mankato to assess future programming opportunities. As a first deliverable, RNDC will present the University with a comprehensive review of demographic, socioeconomic, and market changes taking place at various levels of analysis anticipated to impact institutions of higher education over the next couple of decades. RNDC is working closely with the Provost’s Office and the Department of Integrated Engineering and are currently collecting data for further analysis. A multilevel model has been generated (see below) to guide the further work. The first findings will be presented to MNSU-Mankato in mid-January.
Welcoming Communities Project Continues Amidst Pandemic
By: Marjorie Zoe Negrón Muñoz, Rural Equity Specialist

Coming to the closing of the year, it is necessary to balance our “life’s check book” and write in the wins as well as the losses. This year has certainly been a challenging one amidst the pandemic, however we must mention that our communities have shown true resiliency and the will to further their education and understanding on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). DEI is a pressing topic and the new lens in which RNDC projects and efforts have been directed.

As part of this resiliency and goodwill, our Welcoming Communities Project (WCP) communities in Brown County have come into developing what “action” looks like in their communities, and how to promote and work towards that change into becoming a hospitable and welcoming environment for all. As an example, the cohort participants of New Ulm decided to unify efforts with the group New Ulm Forward in order to better care and serve their neighbors both existing and newcomers. In the same efforts, the community of Springfield have led the way for the implementation of their Welcoming Communities Board, approved by the City of Springfield Council, which will work as a Human Rights and Welcoming Commission. This month community leaders are in the process of recruiting board members who are willing to move forward the education along with the creation of opportunities for all.
WCP has shown that investing in the development of the community is worth the time and energy from both private and public sectors in collaboration. It is in the development and education of the people in the region that we can better the life of all and develop a much stronger and withstanding economy. We look forward to what, not only Brown County, but all of our nine counties will work on to build better, stronger, and more welcoming communities coming 2021. Happy Holidays and to a healthy New Year!
“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive and a better organization.” – Pat Wadors
Region Nine Development Commission Looking to Fill Open Vacancies
Are you a county commissioner, city council member, mayor, or school board member? Do you want to help the region grow and become more resilient?

The Region Nine Development Commission is governed by 40 regional leaders. They include elected officials representing nine counties, 72 cities, 147 townships, 33 school districts, the Minnesota Valley Council of Governments, and the following public interest groups: Health & Human Welfare, Minority Populations, and Youth Commissioners.

Interested in joining? Contact Heather Bartelt at to find out if you are eligible to join.
Region Nine and MNSU-Mankato Enter SPRINT Challenge
Last October, the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) launched the Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology (SPRINT) Challenge. Funded by the CARES Act Recovery Assistance, the Sprint Challenge competition will allow communities and regions nationwide to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the economic, health, and safety risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic. By supporting innovative, technology-driven businesses, this initiative seeks to help communities and regions to meet their critical innovation needs as well as to build more resilient regional economies. The initiative will allocate funds for the expansion and creation of projects that center on furthering technology-led economic development that "accelerate high-quality job growth, create economic opportunities, and support the next generation of industry-leading companies.”

Through this funding opportunity, Minnesota State University, Mankato in collaboration with RNDC seek to establish a regional Economic Recovery Center (ERC) to efficiently address the crisis caused by the unprecedented pandemic. The proposed ERC will sustain regional economic resiliency by creating and consolidating existent networks of cross-sector stakeholders throughout Region Nine that can work together and communicate about current and latent future challenges. The proposed Economic Recovery Center will initiate strategic partnerships that will allow regional business to access world-class services while circumventing entry barriers and mitigating the cost of said services.
MnDOT Statewide Pedestrian System Plan Available for Comments
This summer, MnDOT evaluated several street designs by installing temporary pedestrian demonstration projects across the state. Valuable input on these projects and helped shape plan recommendations for improving walking throughout Minnesota. The draft MnDOT Statewide Pedestrian System Plan is now available for you to read and review! The comment period is open through January 11.
Do you know businesses impacted by COVID-19?

Region Nine may be able to help with a 0% interest loan!
Loans can range from $10,000 to $100,000. The first two years will have 0% interest, followed by 2% interest for the remainder of the loan term.

Two of the primary eligibility criteria are that the business must:

(1) demonstrate financial harm from the pandemic and

(2) operate and be registered in any of the nine counties within Region Nine.

The new funds have been received through the federal CARES Act program.
Region Nine has other lending programs available to meet the need for those who do not qualify for the CARES Act funding. More information on those programs can be found here.

Questions? Contact for more information.
Rural Engagement Initiative
The Rural Engagement Initiative (REI) is a group of young professionals, led by Region Nine interns and fellows, that look at topics of diversity, inclusion, equity, and sustainability. REI aims to highlight community members, businesses, and community projects and practices within South Central Minnesota that support community, economic, and sustainable development. The group will be presenting new and engaging content each month that will resonate with all age groups. REI believes that engagement from all community members will not only help, but is essential, for regional resiliency and growth.
A Candid Conversation with Mayor Najwa Massad
By: Monali Bhakta, Lead for Minnesota Fellow

“Coming to the United States as an immigrant and establishing a small business shows how we are the heartbeat of this country. I believe in uplifting small businesses because of that personal connection that people get in the hospitality industry—we are the heart of our community.” —Mayor Najwa Massad  

One of the most inspiring political figures in Mankato is Mayor Najwa Massad. I had the chance to speak in-depth with Najwa who uncovered her timeless life story beyond serving as Mayor. Back in 1960, Najwa immigrated from Lebanon when just 5 years old, settling in Mankato with her mother, father, and brother. She attended St. John’s Catholic School, and grew up in a modest household.  

Because the price to make phone calls to Lebanon was expensive at the time, her mother was unable to afford keeping in contact with her sister, and had not seen her in 11 years. After over a decade, she joined her mother and brother on a trip to Lebanon, where she met her husband, John. She continued to stay in Lebanon for her marriage, and had a daughter named Murray. “I’m very proud that [my daughters] go back to that heritage of where they came from such as customs that I carried from my parents, and they are carrying the same customs moving on. Family is # 1, and that's the most important part because without your family, you don’t have a base,” Massad says. 

A civil war broke out in Lebanon that escalated during their visit to the U.S., so they decided to settle in the U.S. again. It was challenging at first because they had very little money, and her husband could not speak English, so it was hard for him to find a job. Najwa also faced the challenge to break away from pre-imposed gender roles that women could not work, as she knew better than that. She soon got a job at a grocery store with her father’s support. Because of John’s exceptional talent as a master chef, they had to return to Lebanon to sustain their family business. But, this was when the civil war was at its peak. “We had to escape in the middle of the night to get from our hometown to Beirut—we got onto this boat because we had our American green cards. There was an Israeli ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea that we realized was a cargo ship for animals,” Massad says.  

She describes the agony of being cramped together with 250 passengers getting sick in the most unsanitary conditions. On a trip that was supposed to take 2 hours, it took over 24 hours to get to Cyprus. When they got off the boat, the most beautiful sight they saw was the American flag flying on the dock. After spending the night in Cyprus, they got on a plane back to the U.S. and didn’t look back. In 1984, they opened their first restaurant featuring French-Mediterranean cuisine, naming it after their first daughter, Murray. After 24 years, they returned to Lebanon to visit her mother-in-law. “It was surreal because we left Lebanon when the bombs were falling. Beirut was a disaster with rubble everywhere...people were just running in the streets, and it was absolutely horrible. And then we go back, those people are resilient...Beirut was beautiful again, it was gorgeous,” Massad says.  

When talking about her leadership style, she describes herself as nurturing and a good listener. She believes in listening to people with empathy and compassion, regardless of how big or small their issues are. Instead of arguing with them, she wants to be that person who actually understands what they’re going through. As the daughter of immigrants, she is one of those dynamic leaders who understands coming to a new country and feeling like a fish out of the water. People just want to be heard, and they want to know that someone is willing to actually listen to what they say. “When we come into public office, it’s not about us anymore. It’s about the people that voted for us, and the people that we serve. We all have disagreements, but in the end, we have to get back together to see what we can do best,” Massad says. 

Photo from Mankato Life: Mankato Staple – Najwa Massad & Najwa’s Catering
In the Media
SMIF launches economic growth program in Montgomery- Read more

Saliva testing site for COVID-19 now open in Worthington- Read more

$$ Grant Opportunities $$
Redevelopment Grant Program

Grants can pay for land acquisition, demolition, infrastructure improvements, soil stabilization when in-fill is required, ponding or other environmental infrastructure and adaptive reuse of buildings, including remedial activities at sites where a subsequent redevelopment will occur.

At least half of the grant money will be awarded to sites located outside the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, given that a sufficient number of eligible applications are received from out-state applicants.

Deadline: February 1, 2021
Community Innovation Grants

Community Innovation grants are meant to be transformation capital. They are an investment in an equitable future where every person has the opportunities and the support they need to thrive.

The Bush Foundation provides Community Innovation grants of $10,000 to $200,000. Grants under $20,000 are available from three intermediary partner organizations.

Deadline: Ongoing
Calendar of Events
January 1: Office closed
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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