Carl Newbanks

Carl Newbanks from the Initiative Foundation presents remotely to the Morrison County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

The Initiative Foundation was even busier than usual in 2020.

The Little Falls-based nonprofit, philanthropic group not only took on its normal duties of providing loans, grants, donor services and charitable funds for local businesses and organizations, it also helped with COVID-19 relief and recovery funding.

“This was a pretty amazing year for us at the foundation,” said Carl Newbanks, grants and development manager for the Initiative Foundation.

The organization services a six-county region of Morrison, Crow Wing, Stearns, Benton, Wright and Chisago counties. In Morrison County alone, the foundation funded 10 projects, equaling $454,000 in lending and $2.881 million in private leverage.

Eight of those projects were DEED, COVID-19 emergency business relief loans and two were typical gap lending. Newbanks said, overall, gap lending was down in 2020, but mostly because the organization was focused on COVID-19 relief business loans.

The loans provided in Morrison County created 24 jobs and retained 120 existing jobs, according to Newbanks.

“On top of that, DEED also tapped us with doing what they called, Emergency Business Grants, a project that we nicknamed ‘Gigrantasourus,’” Newbanks told the Morrison County Board of Commissioners during its meeting, Tuesday.

The Emergency Business grants resulted in 776, $10,000 grants across the foundation’s six-county region. Newbanks said, at one point, 24 of the 26 staff members were working on that project alone.

He said the Foundation expects to get back to more typical gap lending in 2021, but it does anticipate more COVID emergency relief to come through. Newbanks said it will “jump on those projects as needed” to support the small business community in Morrison County and throughout the region.

He said one trend which did not change because of the pandemic was that a lack of access to affordable, quality child care continues to be a barrier to workforce attraction and retainment in the region.

“We’ve been working in that area even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Newbanks said.

He said the foundation was able to capture funding and funnel it into 111 emergency child care grants during the past year. It also got relief from the governor’s Education Emergency Fund. The organization was able to make a $15,000 grant to the Morrison County Association of Childcare Providers.

In terms of summer programming, he said the Initiative Foundation has made a little more than $50,000 in grants to support Morrison County child care providers.

“A lot of it was just grants to help them keep their doors open as they’re kind of weathering the affects of the pandemic,” Newbanks said.

Ninety-seven of the COVID-19 relief grants came to Morrison County.

“We really do continue to see that as a major barrier to economic development and, of course, workforce retention and attraction,” he said. “It is going to continue to be a priority for us.”

Though it is not a guarantee, Newbanks also said the organization is expecting to see child care funding from the state legislature this year.

Along with the funding, Newbanks said 11 organizations in Morrison County received training and technical assistance through the foundation’s Nonprofit Academy.

“(There has been) lots of good work for the foundation, but we greatly appreciate your support of us and your contributions to our work,” Newbanks told the Board. “We really look forward to what we’re going to be able to accomplish this year, as well.”

Morrison County Board of Commissioners Briefs:

In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:

• Approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for a 190-foot telecommunications tower in Lakin Township;

• Approved an after-the-fact interim use permit to establish a home-extended meat processing business in Pike Creek Township;

• Provided support for a $13,000 COVID-19 relief grant for the Little Falls/Morrison County Airport;

• Executed a new, five-year joint powers agreement with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a court amendment within that joint powers agreement;

• Approved 2021 establishment licenses for six food, pools and lodging establishments in Morrison County;

• Heard monthly reports from the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office and University of Minnesota Extension, Morrison County;

• Awarded a contract for $893,232.35 to Marvin Tretter, Inc. in Pierz for two bridge replacement projects; one on 100th Avenue in Two Rivers Township and the other on County State Aid Highway 1 just north of Randall;

• Approved a request to hire a new maintenance technician for the Public Works Department due to a retirement; and

• Set a date and time of 10:30 a.m., May 11, for a Budget Committee meeting.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 27, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.

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