From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)…
The Central Woodlands is a self-identified “community of place” comprised of the northern portion of East Central Regional Development Commission’s service area. It includes northern Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Pine Counties, and southern Aitkin County. This region is very rural, has high rates of unemployment, low incomes (75% live in poverty), and a large percentage of older adults. Thus, many of their projects focused on older adults.
Someday Isle is a nonprofit shop and community economic development center on Isle’s main street, where local artists sell their wares. Someday Isle also hosts public access computers for people to use and offers training in using technology for small business and marketing. One local artist, Art Carr, reported an increase in sales by 400% after creating a Facebook page for his art.
The Central Woodlands Steering Team also prioritized partnering with township boards on broadband access. The Central Woodlands Inventory and Assessment project was designed to help townships move forward on broadband projects. For example, in Wilma Township in eastern Pine County, a retired resident leveraged $3000 in grant money for equipment to install new Wi-Fi technology to bring wireless internet to the town hall. According to project coordinator Penny Simonsen of East Central RDC, “Do not underestimate the power of a local stakeholder to influence the success of a project. Wilma Township is an excellent example of this, in a very positive way.”