Fergus Falls – Telework Capital of Minnesota?

A couple of weeks ago I read a story in WDAY 6 that claimed that Fergus Falls is the Telework Capital of Minnesota. The article talked about Fergus Falls’ Business Development Center and broadband…

A hotel with a modern day mission aims to attract companies around the world to Lakes Country. The Business Development Center is a resource facility with unique solutions never before seen in Minnesota.

The Business Development Center has everything you might expect in a traditional business incubator…

It has office suites, work stations, even training rooms – any resources needed to be in business, all which can be rented by the day, week, or month.

But it also has the telecommunications infrastructure a business needs today…

They’ve increased internet speeds to at least 50 megabits per second.

With this in mind, I was excited to get the opportunity at the MTA Annual Convention to meet the folks who are helping to put Fergus Falls on the telework map – Dave Bickett and Tim Brinkman at Park Region/Otter Tail Telecom. They gave me a little info on the background that gave birth to the telework initiative in Fergus Falls. I’m going to try to retell it – because I think (like recently released report on nonprofit use of technology) it demonstrates that a good strategy focuses on solving an issue. Also their strategy is too good not to share.

Forward Fergus Falls is a coalition of Fergus Fall leaders, born as they say “out of participants of The Blandin Leadership group and the EIC Board.” The group goal is to create a team and a sense of common unity….

“We want the whole community involved. We want to create a think-tank that will unite the community under one common goal,” Said Doug Houska, president of the city’s Economic Improvement Commission and a member of the initial leadership group.

With that one goal, however are 13 Destiny Drivers that help put a plan in place to reach the goal. The drivers include a plan for telework…

Forward Fergus Falls Destiny Drivers
1. Create and support 100 jobs or more each year for the next five years by working with existing and new businesses.
2. Market Fergus Falls as a telecommuting-ready community.
3. Establish at least two bio-related businesses in the next five years.
4. Establish access to both local and regional Angel Venture funds.
5. Establish an Orthopedic Center of excellence.
6. Preserve and repurpose the RTC by 2014.
7. Send two additional groups of community leaders to the Blandin Leadership Training Program by 2014.
8. Become leader in community education excellence.
9. Support and expand the River Walk revival efforts.
10. Become Minnesota leader in spiritual, behavioral, and physical health.
11. Focus on identifying, promoting and increasing participation for 10 annual weekend-long signature events through arts, history, the cultural heritage of the area, etc. by 2012.
12. Promote “being green” through a series of dynamic, fun, and educational environmentally-themed events.
13. Become a leader in Community Acceptance & Inclusion.

From the destiny driver status to implementation – they began the Telework Initiative. Part of the equation is having adequate broadband. Tim and Dave told me that residents and businesses have up to 50 Mbps – more if they ask. The city also opened the Business Development Center (telework hotel), described in the article above. It opened quite recently but already serves as a home to one business and several independent workers. Finally the strategy include a lot of promotion. Promoting the idea of telework to local residents – and promoting it to business, local and outside of the area. Their website is a key place where workers and employers can find out about opportunities.

One important, aside – the folks in Fergus Falls worked with the folks at the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to update their job listing websites to include opportunities for teleworkers. Prior to their discussions everything was listed by location – making it difficult for an employer to make it clear that potential employees need not be local to get hired. As a librarian, I get how important that change in cataloging is!

The initiative is fairly new – but they have the website, which includes the jobs board, the have the telework hotel, they have held several popular events to educate the workforce and industry, they have run ads and other promotions locally and they have been building partnerships. And it’s not too new for some early successes.

The WDAY 6 article features GreenSneakers…

Doug Bartels – GreenSneakers Executive Director: “That’s why we moved into this location.”

Bartels’ company is based in Wahpeton, but instead of moving there, his six employees are now working from the Business Development Center. The one of a kind office just opened.

Doug Bartels: “We needed facilities that would give us an opportunity to store and warehouse collections of tennis shoes and then a central location for all of us to work together.”

Fergus Falls is also home to Ringdahl EMS, a collaboration of four ambulance companies in Minnesota and North Dakota, Emergency Training Associates (ETA) our educational organization, and PARA-CORP an all-risk medical management contracting service. According to their website they provide…

Emergency Medical Training Associates – ETA provides a full range of emergency care educational programs and classes, customized training, and business and community safety and first aid training. We provide advanced level certification classes in ACLS, PALS, healthcare provider CPR, EMT and Paramedic. The training can be done at your site or at one of our EMS training facilities in Minnesota or North Dakota.

The services are made possible with super-fast broadband (upwards of 50 Mbps).

Fergus Falls is enjoying the lowest unemployment they’ve had since 1989. The attendance at their telework events has been great and they are getting call from other communities. It’s the final point that caught my attention. Tim mentioned that they have had calls from as far away as California from folks who want to get listed on the website. That makes me think that Fergus Falls is on to a winner destiny driver. Today telework capital of Minnesota; tomorrow, who knows?

This entry was posted in economic development, MN, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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