By Maureen McMullen on Oct 19, 2016 at 11:37 a.m.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith visited with Red Wing Ignite representatives and toured the building Thursday as part of her "87 Counties in 86 Days" tour, which also included visits to Dodge and Wabasha counties this week.
Community representatives including Mayor Dan Bender, City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlman, Port Authority President Scott Adkisson and Red Wing Schools Supt. Karsten Anderson joined Ignite Executive Director Neela Mollgaard and Program Coordinator Shannon Harris to discuss the organization's impact on the community's economy and entrepreneurial efforts. Sen. Matt Schmit also attended.
Adkisson, an Ignite board member, explained the organization's mission to help Red Wing on the map, in the state and nationally, as an "entrepreneurial spirit community."
"An entrepreneur myself for the last 40 years as a business owner, there's not a lot of support for our dream," he said. "So, we thought what we needed to do was go after support for entrepreneurs so that they have the best opportunity to build a business and not just take their dreams and watch them fail."
Anderson described the collaborations between Ignite and the school district, including the development of a curriculum for a computer coding class — a resource he says is crucial, but lacking in most schools.
"It pains me to know that throughout Minnesota and throughout our country, we've reduced that kind of educational opportunities for kids," said Anderson, whose education career began teaching a high school computer programming class. "Our schools just don't have that kind of programming anymore."
Smith said she was impressed by the organization's community-wide collaborations to foster talent, workforce and access to capital.
"You can just see what can be accomplished when you've got the kind of collaboration that is happening here in Red Wing," she said. "They are creating a real physical and virtual ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the region and in this community with Red Wing Ignite, and that's really exciting."
During the meeting, Mollgaard identified funding as one of Ignite's primary challenges.
"When we talk about the future, I feel very confident that what we're doing is what we're supposed to be doing," she said. "We have the groundwork laid, but I think what we're finding is the biggest challenge that always comes up is funding."
Red Wing, she said, faces a unique struggle in gaining funding: Although the community's population can't compete with cities that have a larger university system, Red Wing's low rate of unemployment and poverty disqualify the city from certain federal grants.
She also floated the idea of appropriation funding.
Smith mentioned a number of avenues through which organizations like Ignite might gain funding, including angel tax credit and the Minnesota Job Creation Fund.
"What I heard today was important feedback that sometimes those efforts seem to focus most on bigger companies, and we need to keep our eye on the bigger opportunity for smaller companies," she said. "Also the state and the legislature need to do their part by funding those strategies that we know work."