Who We Are

Historical Timeline

1980s      1990s      2000s      2010s    


For five months in late 1984 and early 1985, the McKnight Foundation initiated a series of meetings in five regions of the state (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast) to discuss priority needs and ways in which a private foundation might help address the needs in the non-metropolitan regions of the state of Minnesota. The issues that were raised at those meetings varied from region to region, and therefore a more in-depth approach was needed to correctly assess the specific needs of the different regions. The McKnight Foundation decided to form six regional teams in the state to prioritize and address solution strategies in each of the respective areas.

The West Central Development Task Force was the last to be established, and it met for the first time on June 25, 1985 in Morris. The West Central Development Task Force, through a process of needs assessment, information gathering and public contact, identified six specific goals that it believed would address the present problems and future concerns of the region in four broad-based categories: economic development, human services, education and the environment.

Original six goals:

  • Create a regional organization to coordinate and marshal the existing resources in the region.
  • Address the current agricultural crisis.
  • Initiate a long-term economic development effort aimed at assisting small business creation and diversification.
  • Institute an on-going leadership development program.
  • Develop an incentive to address gaps in education and human service programs.
  • Make available incentive funds to address environmental issues.


  • Incorporated the West Central Minnesota Initiative Fund, headquartered in Fergus Falls, Norwest Bank building
  • Received two-year start-up funds from The McKnight Foundation
  • Established four (4) broad areas of funding
    • Economic development & employment
    • Education & Training
    • Human Services
    • Leadership Development
  • Projects included: business incubators, joint regional leadership program with Concordia College & Humphrey Institute
  • $698,000 in revenues $423,000 expenses
  • Four (4) staff, located in Norwest Bank, Fergus Falls.


  • Awarded $7.6 million from McKnight
  • Supported WC Leadership program, 450 people impacted
  • Supported SBDC
  • Supported the Farm Business Management (Grant County)
  • Funding in economic development, human services/education and leadership
  • First component fund established – Miltona Magnet Fund, Miltona
  • $1,490,000 revenue, $1,113,000 expenses


  • Officially started to solicit development of community funds
  • Began childcare initiative (to expand child care centers capacity)
  • Began hunger/emergency assistance program
    • Funded food shelf/pantries, assisted with equipment purchases
  • Began WCIF Endowment
  • $2,908,000 in revenue, $1,350,000 in expenses

1990 ⤒ Return to top

  • Began environmental initiative
  • Revenue $4,300,000 Expenses $2,830,000


  • Founded Tri-State Manufacturers Association (a flexible manufacturers network)
  • Received first bonus match from The McKnight Foundation
  • Total revenue $2,660,000  Total expenses $1,613,000


  • Received five-year commitment from McKnight $9.0 million
  • Changed (narrowed down) program focus to:
    • Revolving Loan Fund program, Grant program, Leadership development and development of community funds
  • Departure of three founding board members – Roger, Laurel, & Elaine
  • Established the Rural Initiative Coalition (statewide effort)
  • Funded the FFCC Upward Mobility Nursing Program (LPN to RN); only associate program in the region
  • Revenue $3,230,000 Expenses $1,518,000


  • WCIF Endowment exceeds $5 million
  • Added housing grants
  • Assisted the WC MN Housing Partnership to receive 501(c)(3) status and provided operational support
  • Continued to support leadership center
  • Supported mergers and consolidation grants
  • Last year of operational support to TSMA
  • Revenue $2,540,000 Expenses $1,480,000


  • Lowell Larson took over as Executive Director
  • Shortened name to "West Central Initiative Fund”
  • Began Workforce 2001 grant program
  • Continued support of mergers and consolidation grants
  • Continued basic human needs program
  • Revenue $2,780,000 Expenses $1,780,000


  • Adopted WCI Core Beliefs
  • Received IRP Loan
  • Received Flood Loan Dollars – to administer for region
  • Fiscal agent for the WC Child Care Directors Association
  • Assisted Parkers Prairie with disaster recovery efforts
  • Coordinated First Time Home Buyers Program, MCPP
  • Revenue $4,560,000 Expenses $1,049,000


  • Celebrated 10 years of opportunity
  • Began name change to "West Central Initiative"
  • New five-year commitment from McKnight $6.75 million
  • Began two (2) new initiatives: Family Initiatives (received additional award from The McKnight Foundation for this); and the Community Initiative
  • Continued with job focus, addressing labor force needs and responded to a critical need for housing in the region.
  • Began new Product Development Fund (WingIt Bobber)
  • Continued with Basic Human Needs grants
  • Provided housing study grants
  • Continued support of mergers and consolidations
  • Revenue $3,950,000 Expenses $1,820,000


  • Increased to 11 staff
  • Devastating spring floods – supported the Flood Project and the Village Mobile Unit, set aside $100,000 for flood-related support, provided funds to hire flood consultant to help people complete the necessary forms, etc.
  • Received EDD Designation and received EDA Planning Grant; hired Economic Development Director
  • Adopted Principles For MN Grantmakers
  • Began relationship with MTI
  • Supported NxLevel Training for State of Minnesota
  • General endowment exceeds $10 million
  • Revenue $5,910,000 Expenses $2,000,000


  • Through WCI's EDD efforts, Elbow Lake received EDA funding for 300,000-gallon water tower; Detroit Lakes, Becker County received funding for 32-lot industrial park; Perham received funding for 60-acre expansion of industrial park.
  • Hired Transportation Planner and began transportation planning activities, partnership with MnDot
  • Began planning for Y2K and provided training grants to MTI
  • Revenue $5,350,000 Expenses $1,790,000


  • New leadership, Nancy Straw succeeded Lowell Larson
  • Continued focus on quality employment, workforce, housing, flood-related grants, rural crisis initiatives
  • Revenue $4,780,000 Expenses $2,490,000

2000 ⤒ Return to top

  • Increased emphasis on children and families – received additional funding from McKnight to strengthen our youth.
  • Supported the Rural Help Network
  • First Workforce Conference held
  • Revenue $4,600,000 Expenses $2,830,000


  • Purchased land to house new WCI offices
  • Received $7.1 million from The McKnight Foundation for additional five years of support
  • Received funding from the MN Department of Children & Families in support of youth entrepreneur projects
  • Revenue $4,200,000 Expenses $2,700,000


  • Supported the September 11 Fund
  • Started Career Advancement Program – special project funded by McKnight
  • Received Promise Fellow Award – Supported America's Promise
  • Moved into offices at 1000 Western Avenue, Fergus Falls
  • Revenue $3,450,000 Expenses $2,350,000


  • Completed the Infrastructure Study
  • Added Early Childhood Initiative – special award from McKnight & others
  • Youth Summit held, Fergus Falls
  • Revenue $760,000 Expenses $2,100,000 (Change in accounting method)


  • Supported coalition building in four community demonstration sites for Early Childhood Initiative
  • Supported cultural diversity projects in Pelican Rapids
  • Began Good Neighbor grants – small grant program that staff can use to lift up projects in Fergus Falls
  • Revenue $3,600,000 Expenses $2,500,000


  • Family Economic Success model implemented
  • Provided matching funds to Tsunami Relief & Fishing Boat Project
  • Revenue $4,450,000 Expenses $2,860,000


  • Incorporated & spun off "Northern Connections"
  • The Early Childhood Dental Network (ECDN) formed
  • Revenue $3,814,000 Expenses $3,338,000


  • Regional transit study conducted
  • The Minnesota THRIVE Initiative is launched to promote healthy, social-emotional development of young children
  • Provided funds to Browns Valley to assist with flood recovery efforts
  • Received National Standards Seal from the Council on Foundations for attaining the highest standards for grantmaking integrity and accountability
  • First School Readiness Forum held
  • Revenue: $5,908,000 Expenses: $3,200,000


  • Infrastructure pilot project
  • Launched ECI mental health component coalitions in Douglas, Grant, Stevens and Traverse Counties
  • LPN Leadership Training courses as part of WCI's Building the Healthcare Workforce program
  • New Solutions collaboration to help businesses with high potential for growth
  • Revenue: $5,324,000 Expenses: $3,462,000


  • New website launched
  • Labor Force Development Council developed Experienced Worker Toolkit for employers
  • Compiled regional data on business broadband use
  • Developed an energy assessment template for counties to determine current energy usage and renewable energy potential
  • The FES Council developed three white papers outlining issues and actions to help eliminate barriers that keep families with lower incomes from prospering.
  • Received a Partners Investing in Nursing's Future grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help build faculty capacity in geriatric nursing for central and west central Minnesota
  • Revenue: $1,158,000 Expenses: $3,804,000

2010 ⤒ Return to top

  • WCI awards planning grants to eight regional lake associations to participate in Healthy Lakes & Rivers Partnership program
  • WCI helps develop regional board leadership academy
  • Labor Force Development Council compiles "55+ and Looking for Work" brochure for older workers navigating the job market
  • FES Child Care and Early Childhood workgroup develops an Employers and Child Care toolkit.
  • WCI hosts West Central Leadership Academy
  • Revenue: $9,106,000 Expenses: $4,418,000


  • WCI celebrates the 25th anniversary of its incorporation with surprise grants and ice cream socials throughout the region.


  • WCI unveils new logo to better reflect its mission to the region
  • Introduced new Competitive Workforce Grant
  • Introduced Access to Capital loan program


  • Launched Capital Improvement Grant Program for regional cities of less than 5,000


  • Introduced Heart-Land Giving farmland donation program.
  • Became a sponsor of the Minnesota Cup to promote and encourage entrepreneurs and business start-ups in the region.
  • Received a MnDOT grant to provide Safe Routes to School planning for regional communities and school districts.
  • The Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary.
  • Became part of PPREP, a group of foundations working on disaster preparedness for their communities
  • WCI named one of The Democracy Collaborative's "Innovative 30" foundations from across the country.


  • Leadership change; Brad Barth takes the helm as WCI president/CEO.


  • WCI, in collaboration with the Labor Force Development Council, launches Live Wide Open regional marketing campaign.
  • WCI tests forgivable loan pilot project for regional child care businesses.
  • WCI introduces BestForce Workforce Training program for small manufacturers, a joint program between WCI and Enterprise Minnesota.
  • WCI collaborated with its fellow members of MADO, the Minnesota Association of Development Organizations, to create DEVELOPMN, a comprehensive development plan for Greater Minnesota.
  • WCI and the Minnesota Initiative Foundations receive the Minnesota Council on Foundations' 2016 Responsive Philanthropy Award.