Matt Varilek

Executive director

Initiative Foundation

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The Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation has been one of the key economic development and philanthropic engines of central Minnesota. Last year, the foundation, which gave out more than $10 million in grants in 2017, named its first new leader since its founding in 1986. Matt Varilek, a South Dakota native who was COO of the U.S. Small Business Administration before joining the foundation, is focusing its firepower on the mostly rural region’s current and future needs. Those include workforce development (including the region’s booming immigrant population) and even child care programs (crucial for luring young families). Central Minnesota is the state’s fastest-growing region. Look for Varilek and his team to come up with creative new ways to keep the 14-county region it supports moving forward.