March 2021
Success Story: Minnesota Economic Development District Executive Director Strives for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Economic Development
Region Nine Development Commission (RNDC) is an EDA-designated Economic Development District (EDD) focused on fostering economic development in a nine-county region in southern Minnesota.

Located in Mankato, RNDC’s service area is predominantly white but quickly diversifying. To address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues, RNDC infuses these efforts into its economic development work.
“It’s not just an addendum chapter or vague language in a plan. Rather, we incorporate DEI principles into all the work that we are doing,” said Nicole Griensewic, Executive Director of RNDC.

In 2015, as the population became more diverse, Griensewic was questioned about how RNDC planned to incorporate the changing demographics into their plans to deal with equity gaps.

She quickly got a grant and subcontracted a local non-profit to help them start conversations about race. The result was the Welcoming Communities Program, which includes discussions among stakeholders and DEI training. Other EDA EDDs have since adopted the program.

Griensewic’s eagerness to try new things to make economic development better and more inclusive has helped her colleagues across the country.

“I often seek Nicole out as an innovator in our industry,” said Kevin Byrd, president of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). “She takes a lot of measured risks, which helps our whole industry. She is constantly thinking further out there.”

Frank discussions and DEI trainings are just the beginning, said Griensewic, a native Minnesotan who came to RNDC in 2012.

“We’re looking around the proverbial table and asking, ‘Who is not here?’” she said. “We started with race and are now talking about gender, veterans, and immigrants.”

Being inclusive is smart economic development, she said. According to state data, projections indicate a labor shortage in the RNDC service area that could eventually cost the region and its trading partners roughly $1.7 billion per year. Population declines are trending in six of the nine RNDC counties. Meanwhile, people of color are the fastest growing combined groups in all of the counties.

“I am a very blunt person,” Griensewic said. “Looking at the numbers, if we don’t get ahead of this, we can’t even talk about economic recovery and resiliency. We don’t need a wall; we need a red carpet. This is what businesses are telling us.”

RNDC’s engagement with stakeholders has led to conversations about farmers adapting halal slaughtering techniques, women and transportation, and other issues.

Griensewic’s expansive view of economic development possibly stems from a background that doesn’t include economic development. She previously worked as an in-store executive at Target, and her private sector experience was viewed as an asset by the RNDC board.

Byrd, president of NADO and Executive Director of the New River Valley Regional Commission in Radford, Virginia (also an EDD), said that more female EDD executive directors are taking the helms as leadership changes. In the Chicago region, 22 of the 48 EDDs are led by females.

“We are starting to observe a sea change of leadership,” Byrd said. “Many long-serving male leaders are retiring, and female leaders are being appointed.”

Griensewic is believed to have been the youngest executive director of RNDC when she was hired. She isn’t afraid to ask questions when she doesn’t have the answers or try new things to find a solution.

“I don’t have time to be shy,” she said.
Region Nine Seeks Input for the CEDS
Region Nine is in the process of developing its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a document that will serve as a tool to guide regional economic development efforts for the next five years. In order to create a CEDS that truly reflects the needs and priorities of the region, we would like to get as much feedback as possible from residents and business owners. Please take a few minutes to participate in this survey.
Governor Walz Announces COVID-19 Community Vaccination Site in Mankato

State encourages all Minnesotans to sign up for the Vaccine Connector to learn when and where to get vaccinated
SAINT PAUL – The State of Minnesota’s COVID-19 Community Vaccination Program is expanding next week, Governor Tim Walz announced, with a new permanent site at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato.

The large-scale Mankato site is the seventh permanent Community Vaccination site in Minnesota, joining Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, Bloomington, Saint Paul and St. Cloud. The Moderna vaccine will be administered to currently eligible Minnesotans, including frontline workers.

“Across the state, we are building an expansive network of providers to bring vaccines directly to Minnesotans in their communities. Our Community Vaccine Program is a key component of this provider network,” Governor Walz said. “The Community Vaccination sites are incredibly efficient at getting shots into arms, and this new location will help us reach more people in southern Minnesota quicker than ever before.”

Minnesota has administered more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 1.3 million people. To date, Community Vaccination Program sites and the 10 pilot locations that proceeded them have administered more than 211,000 doses.

Minnesota providers are quickly administering vaccines to vulnerable Minnesotans. Last week, the state reached its goal of vaccinating 70% of people age 65 years and older, leading Governor Walz to expand vaccine eligibility to 1.8 million more Minnesotans.

“The Community Vaccine Program site in Mankato will help us get shots to more Minnesotans who need them – including frontline workers whose jobs put them at increased risk of COVID exposure,” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said. “Minnesota providers are working hard to get shots to everyone who needs them, and we’re excited to stand up this additional Community Vaccination opportunity to help make that possible.”

Minnesotans who have not received a vaccine should sign up for the Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector, which will notify users about vaccine opportunities near them. Users currently eligible for the vaccine may be randomly selected for an appointment at a Community Vaccination Program location. Minnesotans may be contacted directly if they can make an appointment.

Minnesotans can sign up at Minnesotans unable to sign up online or who require translation assistance can call 833-431-2053 between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday to sign up over the phone.

In addition to the Vaccine Connector, Minnesotans can search for local providers, contact information and scheduling opportunities on the state’s vaccine finder map:

“We need broad community protection before we are able to rein in COVID-19 and get back to the many normal parts of life we all have missed — and the way we get there is by getting as many people vaccinated as possible, as quickly as possible,” Governor Walz said. “To do that, all Minnesotans should get vaccinated with the first vaccine available to them. This new site provides even more opportunities for people to get their shot.”

The state continues to offer no-cost community testing for COVID-19 across Minnesota, including at the former Gander Mountain site in Mankato. Minnesotans are encouraged to schedule an appointment at Walk-ins are also welcome.
Welcoming Communities Project: A Film Discussion
On February 25th from 6:30-8pm, Region Nine held a closed-group discussion on the film, American Son, as part of the Welcoming Communities Project (WCP) curriculum. American Son is a film adaptation of a Broadway play of the same name, which opened in winter of 2018, and focuses on issues surrounding race, parenthood, and policing. While the film and play are not based on one particular true story, it explores the truth of real issues that exist in America today.

Participants had the opportunity to interact with Christopher Demos-Brown, is a Miami trial lawyer, and playwright with over a dozen full-length plays and screenplays to his credit, Eugene Lee, an American actor and playwright whose work has been seen across the globe from the United States to Asia, and Seth Greenleaf, is a Tony, Drama Desk, and Olivier Award-winning producer and director. The discussion was moderated by Bukata Hayes and a discussion guide was followed in order to improve conversations surrounding the film, race, racism, and the criminal justice system in our country. Conversations centered around education on the above topics, and how we can better community relations moving forward. Region Nine staff members were also invited to attend so that they could their own questions as well as hear the questions and concerns of residents in the region.

Regardless of race, gender, age, religion, occupation, etc.; we are all part of our community, and together we can recognize challenges, educate, advocate for change, and make our region welcoming and safe to all.

If you are interested in watching American Son, more information on the discussion guide and where to watch the film is listed below. Please note that the topics and depictions in the film can be intense and may be difficult for some viewers. If you have additional questions regarding WCP and the program’s curriculum, please contact Marjorie Zoe Negrón Muñoz, Rural Equity Specialist, at

American Son, available on Netflix in English and Spanish
American Son (Hijo americano) disponible en Netflix en inglés y español

American Son Discussion Questions
Preguntas para a discutir sobre American Son (Hijo americano)

Defining Rural
Everyone has a different definition of what rural means to them. Whether you think of it as a demographic, characteristic, or way of life, Region Nine wants to hear how you would define rural. Learning more about how our communities define rural will allow us to better understand and meet the needs of residents throughout the region.
An Interview With a Fellow
As part of RNDC's Rural Engagement Initiative
Written by Brianna Sanders, RNDC Intern
Alejandra Bejarano, a current fellow at Region Development Commission (RNDC), grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. She got a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing and management from Dalton State College. Alejandra first joined Mankato’s community in 2018 when she became a graduate student at Minnesota State University - Mankato studying public administration. At MSU, there is a large international student community that helped Alejandra adapt to the new city and feel a sense of belonging. Along the way, she also made strong connections with community members which helped make her feel like a welcomed part of the community. She accepted an internship at RNDC during her master’s degree to get some practical experience in the area. She was recommended to look into opportunities at RNDC by a friend and felt like RNDC had various exciting projects. The variety of projects helped her get a lot of experience in multiple areas. Alejandra enjoyed working on the SPRINT Challenge. Through a collaboration with MSU-M and RNDC, this funding opportunity would establish a regional Economic Recovery Center to help with the crisis caused by the pandemic and to support stakeholders in sustaining economic resiliency. She was able to use her knowledge from her schooling for this project and was able to learn about the grant application process.
Alejandra became a Lead for Minnesota (LFM) Fellow in the summer of 2020. As a LFM Fellow, Alejandra has two components to the fellowship. She works on projects for RNDC and then also some work for the fellowship. Lead for Minnesota is a two-year-long, paid fellowship that places dynamic and diverse leaders, between the ages of 21 to 30, in communities within their home state to work with local, public institutions to improve community well-being. Fellows are given the opportunity to work within public institutions, like RNDC, to gain access to and an understanding of the roles needed to grow and support a vibrant community. She is given tasks, like the listening tour, to look at the community needs and to come up with a project and initiative to help tackle some of the needs in the community. There are also training, networking, and meetings with other fellows. In the future, Alejandra wants to continue to work on projects that impact the community positively. It has been rewarding for her to see the results of the initiatives and the impact that some of the projects have on small communities. The work at RNDC has been very rewarding for Alejandra. Overall, she plans to work in a field that will have a positive impact on communities.
Social Media Breakfast - Mankato:
Know Your Audience
We often hear the age-old question: who is your target audience? However, an even greater question is: who is part of your community? Never underestimate the power that one individual can have. Join us and learn how you can better connect with everyone in your community and how it can benefit your business!
Friday, March 12
8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.

The 52nd Annual International Conference of the
Community Development Society
2021 Community Development Society Virtual Conference will be held on July 12-15. Keynote speakers include: Jessica Hellman, Director for the Institute on the Environment at University of MN, Ronald Wirtz, Director for Regional Outreach at Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO at Luthern Immigration and Refugee Services, S. Atyia Martin, CEO and Founder at All Aces, Inc., and Jane South, Professor of Healthy Communities at Leeds Beckett University.

Registration is open now. Only $50 for full regular registration, and through the generosity of our sponsors, students and retirees can register for FREE. The conference will be hosted in an engaging and interactive platform where you have the ability to interact with speakers, sponsors, and other attendees.
In the Media
After the pandemic year, Region Nine focuses on economic resilience among local counties- Read More

From agriculture to anti-racism: University of Minnesota Extension teaching about race, equity in rural communities- Read More

Economic development grant helping southern Minnesota- Read More

Brewery coming to Fairmont- Read More

Free coaching available for BIPOC-owned businesses- Read More

Success Story: Minnesota Economic Development District Executive Director Strives for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Economic Development- Read More

MDH hosts vaccine clinic in Worthington- Read More
$$ Grant Opportunities $$
USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Potential partners are invited to propose RCPP projects where NRCS and partners co-invest in impactful and innovative solutions to on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns. Proposed projects must generate conservation benefits by addressing specific natural resource objectives in a state/multistate area or address one or more primary resource concerns within an NRCS-designated critical conservation area (CCA).

There are two types of national funding announcements under RCPP.

  1. RCPP Classic is the standard version of the program where NRCS and the lead partner both oversee contracts with producers and landowners engaged in RCPP activities.
  2. RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements are partner-led projects that propose innovative use of federal assistance to achieve conservation benefits that are not possible under the RCPP Classic construct.

Deadline: May 28, 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 above $20,000. In order to support big transformation in the region, there is no set limit on their grant amounts. They are also open to ideas for Program Related Investments (PRIs), which are low-interest loans for work that transforms the region.

Grants under $20,000 are available from intermediary partner organizations.

Deadline: Applications are accepted year-round
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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