Data That We Track, December 2019



Communities We Serve


What the October data is showing in terms of jobless rates:

  • Both Michigan and Wisconsin had a one-tenth decrease
  • The Wisconsin rate continues below 3%, while Michigan manages to stay just above 4%
  • 12 of 73 Michigan counties we serve (16%) are below 3%
  • 59 of the 73 counties saw decreases, while 15 increased, and 4 held steady



How Northern Initiatives Fared


Growing Partnerships
This year has proven to be very exciting in terms of a growing partnership between Northern Initiatives and the Aspen Institute. Northern Initiatives’ Business Services Director, Amanda Blondeau concluded her participation in their Job Quality Fellows Program this past summer. The Job Quality Fellowship brings together innovators from different industries who are engaged in work that expands the availability of better quality jobs in our economy. Have a quick listen to Amanda’s perspective on how Northern Initiatives approaches job quality.


Rural Development Hubs


Also this year, The Aspen Institute’s Communities Strategy Group (CSG) identified Northern Initiatives as one of 43 Rural Development Hubs across the US who are intermediaries doing development differently in rural America. What is an intermediary? According to the Aspen CSG – they are place-based organizations that work to improve prosperity and well-being by harnessing local and outside resources to design and deliver services and products to people, firms and organizations in their region. After interviewing representatives from each Hub, Aspen CSG published the final report of this research, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Check it out:



Monthly Musings from President, Dennis West


I have consistently been charged with stewardship campaigns throughout my church-going life. The message is pretty simple, “if we all do what we can, it adds up to a contribution larger than each of us alone can do.“ I would ask that you consider a contribution to Northern Initiatives this year. But first, let me tell you about how we help small businesses and how a gift from you will support our work.


How is our work funded?


A commonly asked question is where does Northern Initiatives get the funding to help small businesses start and grow? As a nonprofit organization, we apply for grants from Federal and State Governments and private foundations. We earn money from loan interest and fees charged to our customers, covering about half of our operating costs. Corporate gifts and donations from people like you help to cover the remaining costs.


A gift from you to Northern Initiatives is important to us for three reasons.


When you give to NI:

1. Your donation immediately grows and helps more small businesses. Your contribution will be leveraged three to five times because it is helping us to meet a match requirement so often necessary for Federal or State grants.
2. You provide us with much-needed flexibility. Many sources of support come with restrictions to a particular place or a certain group of customers. Private contributions are a source of flexible dollars and are most valuable to our operations.
3. You help us reach key strategic goals of supporting small businesses in all 78 counties that we serve (we’re at 58, and we have made over $1M in loans in 20 counties, soon to be 25) and to provide 100% of our customers with knowledge to grow their business (currently at 75%).

While we are probably not the largest charity on anyone’s list, if you appreciate our work, I hope that you will consider a gift to Northern Initiatives this year. All gifts, regardless of size, allow us to sustain this vital work of bringing opportunity and wealth to Michigan families and communities.


Give to Northern Initiatives Today


Supporter Spotlight



In 1999, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded Northern Initiatives its first program-related investment. The Foundation’s support meant that Northern Initiatives could help small businesses grow and build wealth in rural Michigan that would improve the economic condition for families and children.



Putting the PRIs to Work


Over the last decade, with support from the Kellogg Foundation, NI has loaned over $10,000,000 to small businesses in Michigan, including Bake Superior Bread in Ironwood, Paddle Hard Brewing in Grayling, Roz’s Diner in Clare, and Sky Iris in Harbor Springs.



“Northern Initiatives has been and continues to be a fantastic partner,” said Andrew Brower, program-related investment officer for the Kellogg Foundation. “The team is very hardworking, considerate, creative and has the courage to find ways to connect talented entrepreneurs to economic opportunity. While access to capital is so critically important—especially for many of our communities most in need—the way Northern Initiatives partners with and supports their clients is what makes them so special and integral to Michigan’s equitable economic success.”


Supporting Strong Outcomes & Strategic Growth


Beyond loan capital, the Kellogg Foundation has supported NI with funding for program evaluation; participation in the Kellogg Fellowship Program; and expansion into Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, including key urban areas like Muskegon, Grand Rapids, and Battle Creek.


Shwe Mandalay Burmese Cuisine owners Amanda Sunthang and Jennifer Cole, launched their new restaurant in Battle Creek thanks to support from the Kellogg Foundation and Northern Initiatives.


“The commercial bank gave us enough money to buy our building, but not enough working capital,” said Amanda Sunthang, Shwe Mandalay Burmese Cuisine co-owner. “We needed [funds] to buy some of the baking equipment, to renovate the parking lot and to have a cash back-up for our employee payroll. The Battle Creek Small Business Loan Fund—managed by Northern Initiatives—lent us the working capital, and that was so important for us. We were able to open our doors, hire more employees and create more jobs for the Battle Creek community.”



Join us today to help another small business start or grow.


Donate Today!

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