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Strengthening rural economy is focus of recent Blandin Foundation grants

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – Among the $4.2 million in grants awarded by Blandin Foundation in June, many are focused on strengthening our rural economy by building high-quality, living-wage jobs and developing skills of rural Minnesota’s workforce.  At their quarterly  meeting in Grand Rapids, Foundation trustees approved a total of 124 grants. 

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, through its affiliate Depot Commons, will continue facilitation and coordination of the Workforce Development Initiative in the Itasca County area with support from a $35,000 grant from the Foundation.  The Workforce Development Initiative engages and connects employers to students and strengthens learning that leads to both student success and a quality workforce for the region’s employers.  Blandin Foundation has supported this initiative for more than 10 years.

Workforce development begins before Kindergarten, say national experts.   Now in its ninth year, Invest Early is proving that intensive, high-quality investment in children who start life with challenges such as low income benefits local communities and economies, as well as children.  A grant of $2.1 million to Itasca Area Schools Collaborative for Invest Early will provide another year of major funding support to improve school readiness by improving the system of early childhood screening, care and education; strengthening and empowering families; and promoting healthy childhood development.  More than 420 Itasca area children and their families are enrolled in Invest Early this year and nearly 2,900 have participated since the beginning of the initiative in 2005.  Details, including annual evaluations, are online at

A grant to the Remer community for their Northland Early Childhood Collaborative also was awarded.  Similar to the goals of Invest Early, trustees awarded a grant of $160,000 over two years to support access for every child to preschool, early identification of children having special needs, increasing school readiness, and support for family engagement in their child’s education.  Blandin Foundation has provided support for the collaborative annually since 2007.

Itasca Community College (ICC) continues to lead the way in providing accessible academic and career-related education which contributes to the social and economic health of the region.  A grant of $292,000 over two years will support the college in reforming its entry-level math, chemistry and physics curriculum for incoming freshmen, focusing on the specific needs of an engineering student.  At the same time, the college will expand and focus its recruiting efforts to attract and retain a wide cross-section of students to the critical careers of engineering.  The engineering program at ICC, which is project-based and geared toward non-traditional students, has grown from eight students in 1983 to more than 140 students today, establishing the program as a national leader and a critical source of talent for the region.  Blandin Foundation has supported the ICC Engineering Program since 2004, with $4 million in grants.  More details are online at

Northwest Technical College serves the needs of companies and workers in the northwest and north central Minnesota regions, including Itasca County.   In part through Blandin Foundation project support of $175,000 for the private-sector-led Minnesota Innovation Institute, the college will strengthen a purposefully diverse workforce pipeline to recruit, train and retain skilled workers.  The Institute is a partnership of Greater Bemidji, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and key regional businesses such as TEAM Industries, Potlatch and The Idea Circle, Inc.  Both Northwest Technical College and Bemidji State University will translate insights from this model into their credit-based certificates and programs. 

In listening meetings throughout the Itasca County area in 2012 and 2013, Blandin Foundation CEO Kathy Annette was told in every community of residents’ hunger for new ways to tackle complex issues such as their economic futures.  A grant to rural Minnesota-based Meadowlark Institute will do just that, providing training in participatory facilitation for 250 local community members and the Leech Lake community during the next two years.  This training complements Blandin Foundation’s community leadership and engagement programs.  Information on the training will be available online later in the year at

As a Blandin Broadband Community, Itasca County organizations have been awarded three broadband-related grants totalling $50,000 for workforce development, business development and community information.  Trustees ratified these and 26 other grants totalling $402,000 for community broadband projects throughout rural Minnesota.

Trustees also ratified grants of less than $50,000 each for 85 projects ranging from the development of a data system in support of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success to a donation in support of the youth and family programming in the Bigfork Area of Itasca County. 


Full details related to Blandin Foundation grant-making and programs are online at





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