MIRC Community Update: Winona

As the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative winds down, demonstration communities are taking time to reflect on what has happened in their community as a result of added focus on broadband and broadband projects in the area. Each community will go through this process looking at what’s happened, lessons learned and plans for the future. One of the public benefits of federal funding for a project link this is the opportunity each community has to share what they have learned and the opportunity that other communities have to glean from their lessons. And so today I’m pleased to share notes from Windom (Actually I have notes to share all week. I’ll add this preamble to each for historical context – but each day will be a new community.)

Here are the highlights from Winona…

To begin, we know that the Broadband adoption went from 69% to 75% in two years. It’s an indication that more people are getting online. We saw that general presence online for business increased significantly as well.

Website project

Winona redesigned the city website to be a better digital front door to the community.  The goal was to find out how visitors find other city online resources and increase that visibility.  The city considered students, business, visiting, streaming video, wireless access – all manner of specifications that went into the development of the new site. They learned some lessons along the way. It takes longer in the design process; timelines will slip. You need to trust gut feel on vendor issues.  The right partner is critical. It makes sense to focus on functionality over design.  Have an out and use as necessary. But once the site was completed they received positive feedback from community members and users.  Visitors found the maps on front page were very valuable. They have a nice mapping system! They learned of a new need – utility maps.  Parks and recreation and libraries are prime targeted pages.

Public Access Points

Winona deployed public access points in city hall and park locations.  They created a splash page to city hall.  People sit outside to use the city hall wireless service.  They have access in city hall for visitors and visiting presenters.  It keeps outsiders off of city network.  Campground visitors are using wireless access; the city wants expansion in that area.  Winona is now streaming and plans soon to archive city council and school board meetings.

Sets Winona apart from many communities to have the wireless access.

Workforce

Etravel center at the workforce center (WFC) purchased four laptops to add to existing eight laptops.  They have been marketing to businesses; so far they have received great feedback but no results. So they shifted emphasis to workforce training through ABE (adult basic education).  Now shifted to workforce training inside workforce center.  Subsequently, businesses use WFC to do pre-employment testing.  There have been difficulties in moving laptops to a remote location and getting online.  So they have been using the local wireless to bypass institutional networks.  Workshop attendees have been able to do online practice applications. They are also focusing on the national career readiness standard; there is testing for this credential and they are finding that the businesses are preferring this.

Digital Perch

There is an online support center – Digital Perch – where entrepreneurs can build their online presence.  www.digitalperch.com   It has been interesting to note the different reaction to this site by men and women.  The site has got a definite fishing/hunting feel to it, as designed by the male project team.  The project team is working to balance the imagery.  The big question moving forward –  Who is going to own this and maintain it over the long term?

Project Fine

(Get background on Project Fine here.) Community collaboration has been critical!  Partners include HBC, Winona State, City of Winona, Workforce Center, Winona County Hunger for learning!  And key piece has been the community welcoming strategy. The connection to library has been something new for non-English speakers.  Tour of public access sites has also been a great idea and including the coffee shop too has been great!

There are classes where attendees learn to become instructors and interpreters.  Basic digital literacy classes designed with Hmong and Spanish interpreters.  There are cohorts of non-English speakers taking classes in English. There are highly motivated students. All graduates receive a certificate, which everyone seems to appreciate. There is also a mini-graduation with a potluck dinner. These events have been well-attended and have cemented relationships among various cultures.

They are finding that Immigrant entrepreneurs are using online business tools; it would be nice to have special classes for them! Recently Project Fine has partnered with Winona State; now students provide onsite tutoring in people’s homes.

Next steps – here is a list of potential projects for the future, some projects were submitted for initial consideration for the MIRC project:

  • Telehealth applicants.
  • Serving refugee community – need for more computers and training to this population.
  • Try and get more governmental units more online streaming of meetings.
  • Archiving of meetings.
  • Growing public wifi access
  • Asset mapping could be an important thing for tourism.
  • Focused emphasis on non-online businesses.
  • Main Street Program for downtown – focus on technology
  • Teleconference center
  • Entrepreneur website.
  • Marketing and PR.  Need to get the message out timely, efficient and effective.  Internal and external.
  • Transition to online learning

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