Empowering Small Minnesota Communities Program launched; proposals sought for first round of funding

Empowering Small Minnesota Communities

Small communities in Minnesota have many useful assets: natural and built physical resources, economic strengths, skilled workers, and more. These assets help communities meet their current challenges and move toward longer-term aspirations. 

A new program led by University partners aims to support these pillars of our state. The Empowering Small Minnesota Communities (ESMC) Program will identify ways that individual small communities can leverage their assets to create infrastructure and development projects—ones that support and enhance community vitality, identity, and resilience. The program will also help communities compete for state and federal project funding.

The multiyear program is a partnership between communities and the University of Minnesota. It was established by the State of Minnesota during the 2023 legislative session to give small Minnesota communities and local government units added capacity to develop resilient, sustainable, and adaptable infrastructure projects.

“This program will be vital to communities across the state,” says Erin Koegel, state representative for District 39A and sponsor of the original bill in the Minnesota House. “Many towns and small communities don't have the capacity or even know where to start when it comes to infrastructure projects and funding. The Empowering Small Minnesota Communities Program will be the place Minnesotans can seek help to make their community’s vision of built and natural infrastructure a reality.”

The program is collaboratively led by these University partners: 

The partners will solicit projects and longer-term community-based ideas and support selected communities in developing those ideas. Researchers from throughout the University will be engaged based on the needs and areas of expertise that projects require. 

The program is now accepting applications via a simple intake form. Eligible applicants or team members include Minnesota tribal nations, local units of government, and nonprofit and community-based organizations. Submissions for the initial call are due by 5 p.m. on February 14, 2024. At least two rounds of project solicitation are expected, and work in the program will run through June 2026.  

“An impetus for the program is the knowledge that many small communities recognize both their assets and challenges, but often lack the capacity or resources to act on either,” says Kyle Shelton, CTS director. “ESMC is one tool in the state’s toolbelt to help address that issue by bringing together people from the U with a range of experience to add capacity and develop impactful projects.”

The program is one of several paths for communities to seek technical assistance and support, Shelton adds. Several come through the University, such as the new Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center. Multiple state agencies have programs as well, and the state has named an enterprise director for the Federal Funds Implementation Unit of the Minnesota Management and Budget agency.


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Media Contact

Michael McCarthy