The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation highlighted some of its accomplishments in the area during an annual community luncheon in Spring Valley recently. SMIF has been very active in this region so it chose our area to hold the luncheon, which rotates among various locations each year.

The program highlighted three areas that SMIF is involved in by providing expertise and funding. Two areas have gotten a lot of ink in our newspapers because they are important to our communities and our job is to cover that important stuff.

SMIF is the fiscal agent for five foundations in Fillmore County - Preston, Spring Valley, Harmony, Mabel and Rushford. We cover the annual meetings, accomplishments and other activities of these foundations on a regular basis so readers should be well aware of their roles.

SMIF also provided a grant to support early childhood outreach. Again, early childhood education is an important component of our communities and our newspaper has published special sections regarding this subject and I have editorialized on the importance of early childhood education, in particular, the efforts at the state level of Duane Benson, who, coincidentally, happened to be the guest speaker at foundation banquets in Preston and Spring Valley this year.

SMIF President/CEO Tim Penny can explain the details about the luncheon better than I can and his column is also on this page for you to view.

However, I feel I need to provide a little more explanation about succession planning, which hasn't received as much attention in our newspapers.

I was the speaker on this subject, but I don't feel I quite got my entire message across. I had a talk drawn up, but realized it would take more time than allotted and, with a travel advisory issued and the poor acoustics of the room, I never got my notes out and just winged it. That's not my strength, as I feel more comfortable writing, where I can plot out my case and tie it up at the end.

My example of succession planning at the luncheon was more a personal story about my business, but I never really tied it up at the end to make the case about the importance to communities as a whole.

As I mentioned at the luncheon, succession planning is very useful for business owners of any age because you just never know when succession will happen. Health or other issues can cause a business to change hands without any plan in place because it happened well before the owner intended to leave. Also, if a business owner waits too long for planning, there may be few options for succession.

In my case, I took advantage of a local program that was provided at a low cost because SMIF subsidized it. A consultant with expertise in business came in and analyzed my situation. I already knew that family succession wasn't an option and in her interviews at the time, also discovered that internal succession wasn't an option as people were interested in increased leadership roles, but not necessarily long-term ownership.

She came up with a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was to make some changes to strengthen the company so it would be attractive to potential buyers at the time I plan to retire. Plan B was to wait it out while collecting my pay for the next few years and then quietly retire.

I knew what the answer for me was because I've seen too many business owners take plan B. As they near retirement age, they merely maintain their business for several years and end with a going-out-of-business sale.

Thus, our small towns lose another business and gain an empty commercial building that city leaders scramble to try to fill with a new business. If they can't find one, it sits empty, leaving a hole in the commercial district.

Although succession planning is a benefit for business owners, it really isn't about the business owners. It's about maintaining strong, healthy, perpetual communities.

In many ways, succession planning is doing through an individual basis in the private sector what community foundations are doing in a collective sense through the nonprofit sector - providing opportunities to enrich and enhance the future of our communities.

Succession planning may be more behind the scenes - except when it happens to a newspaper publisher that tends to share his experiences through this very public forum - but it does have value for all of us.