Empowering Small Minnesota Communities

Empowering Small Minnesota Communities

A new University of Minnesota initiative is helping communities in Minnesota tap into historic federal and state funding opportunities to support resilient infrastructure investments.

Largest Federal Climate Investment in U.S. History

The Empowering Small Minnesota Communities (ESMC) program was established by the State of Minnesota during the 2023 legislative session to provide Minnesota communities and local government units with added capacity to develop resilient, sustainable, and adaptable infrastructure projects. ESMC is intended to help small communities—defined as under 15,000 in population—access federal funding available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the largest reinvestment in our nation’s infrastructure in generations, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate/energy-related investment in U.S. history.

Through the program, selected communities receive support from University of Minnesota faculty, students, and staff to advance community-defined projects and position them to apply for federal, state, and local funding available for sustainable and resilient infrastructure investments. Project ideas can focus on many types of infrastructure—from physical systems such as roads and bridges, parks and trails, water networks, broadband, energy systems and housing to more community-oriented systems such as health care, education, recreation, and local economies that provide social connection and support vibrant, healthy living. 

“ESMC is a tremendous opportunity for Minnesota communities to tap into the knowledge, resources, and technical expertise at the University of Minnesota to advance high-priority projects that support and enhance community vitality, identity, and resilience,” said RCP Director Mike Greco, who serves as the 11-county Twin Cities metropolitan area coordinator for the ESMC initiative. “ESMC partnerships can help communities prepare for the future and ensure they are able to adapt and thrive in the face of stresses and shocks from climate, demographic, economic, and other changes that communities are facing.”

Program Pathways

ESMC provides several “pathways” for communities to connect with U of MN resources–from Rapid Response projects intended to meet a short-term need for technical assistance that supports a larger infrastructure proposal or plan, to a year-long Community Futures partnership that uses a design-thinking approach to respond to a community’s existing assets, aspirations, and needs and create a strategy that moves the community forward.

“Regardless of the pathway communities choose, our goal is to position smaller communities to be more competitive when they apply for project funding, and to ensure that local, state, and federal investments provide more benefit to communities,” Greco said.

 Empowering Small Minnesota Communities is a collaboration between the Center for Transportation Studies, U of M Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Minnesota Design Center, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA).