MIRC Community Update: Itasca

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 is the update from Itasca…


Jim Woehrle of Kootasca described their PC’s for People projects. Starting with the original MIRC project funding, they distributed 51 computers, provided 56 broadband connections. KOOTASCA was able to work with providers to get some discounted broadband connections. Working out the process details with providers can be frustrating, but they are productive in the end. With additional funding through the DICP grants, KOOTASCA has procured around 120 computers for low-income people in Itasca and Koochiching Counties, including first time college students at Rainy River Community College.

PBT did provide some discounts in 2nd round. Mid Continent provided 19 dollar 1 Mb service

KOOTASCA is now a local PCs for People affiliate working through the Northern Lights alternative school where the refurbishment is done. The City IT director made a commitment to donate 20 more computers at the meeting. Jim indicated that computer storage can be difficult! We discussed the challenges of scaling up the efforts; distribution to the client families can be a challenge in high numbers. We discussed whether an existing retailer or thrift store take care of this?

Marcia reported on the Library project – They offer basic computer classes – a six part computer course. The course was offered in Grand Rapids twice, to a total of 75 people. They advertised through Community Ed and the library . Mostly seniors and near seniors in attendance. They will continue to offer the training this fall. They are creating another set of courses to be offered with a higher level of sophistication. The library purchased laptops to be used in the community room which necessitated an upgrade of the wireless network due to demand. The same classes are also offered through community ed, also in Eagle VIEW, Deer River, Marcell and other community ed labs. Turnout was strong and there was waiting lists. Small group classes make for effective learning, but limit the number of attendees.

They had an affiliated effort with the YMCA, library and the Elder Circle collaboration. The Y purchased wireless laptops to be used at the Y providing computer access for kids and everyone.

The bank marketed the digital literacy classes that focused on financial literacy and online banking. The banks did their own direct marketing to older people who were not using online banking. Around 100 bank customers attended online banking classes out of 1,000 customers in the targeted population. Very targeted marketing directly through the banks. They attendees had lots of security concerns. Used the mobile lab and some from the bank. Cheryl Botnick was the trainer.

ICTV used MIRC funds to improve their streaming. Now they are increasing capacity again. Their web site and streaming efforts have won awards.

Expanding to stream multiple meetings.

Community ed has taken the lead on MN Extension business training sessions. They had kind of a slow start but the attendance grew over time. Average 8 – 10 people per workshop with an average of 15 at the end of the project; They had lots more registered, but some no-shows. Registration fee could be charged, then refunded when businesses attended. Classes were offered in the mornings, maybe that is not the right time. Plans for continued classes through community education. Web update, google maps, etc… Going to try to offer in the afternoon. Extension is being collaborative and helpful. Karen is mapping Grand Rapids area assets using the Extension Service technical assistance grant. They are using two students – recent high school graduates – to do this mapping.

How to better work with Google? to do mapping and Google place stuff. Some frustration with how Google approves and posts the submitted information.

According to the research done by UM Extension, there has been great progress on business web sites, use of Facebook, Google places, etc…

Bernadine presented the BF Plan to BCBP

IEDC – needs to work hand in hand with MIRC partners. Strong emphasis on helping build the business tech vitality of the community. IEDC tech advisory council is in place – strong compatibility with the MIRC activities and findings.. Strong emphasis on using the broadband infrastructure and the need for quality technology workforce.

  1. Supporting existing local business tech training efforts –community ed and others.
  2. Build a technology talent pool.
  3. Create a data base of technologists within the region
  4. Social media breakfasts
  5. romote e-commerce classes
  6. Website design contest
  7. Tech fair.

Kootasca will take the lead on continued PC’s for People activity.

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