Blandin Broadband Communities: Strut Your Stuff Gathering Notes

November 14, 2019
South Central Service Cooperative

Recently Bill Coleman and I had the pleasure of meeting up folks from three of our current Blandin Broadband Communities – Swift County, Rock County, and Cannon Falls –  to talk about their broadband projects.  To compare notes we used the Intelligent Community Framework: Broadband Infrastructure; Workforce; Innovation; Digital Equity; Marketing & Advertising; and Sustainability.

The Cannon Fall’s team told us, “We had projects that touched our whole community – all different points across our community.”  Swift and Rock County also reported on projects across multiple ICF pillars.

Here below is a summary of some of the broadband work currently underway in these communities. These efforts inspire me.

INFRASTRUCTURE/ACCESS

Cannon Falls

Water tower and water storage facility is now 20 years old and needs attention.  The city needs help understanding what’s up there. The city does have the money to hire someone to do this.

Families are paying too much for Internet in our area.  We have online learning days now – that saved our school district last year.  Some providers responded that “it’s too cold” for the Internet to work.

Rock County 

Hot spots 

The library has five portable hot-spots for check-out. Each hotspot can support 15 devices. “Incredibly popular.”  They check out for two weeks. We have had some problem with people who repeatedly want to use the equipment.  Folks paid the late fee instead of returning the equipment.  Late fee raised from $1/day to $25/day.

More hotspots?  We want to keep the hotspots after the grant runs out.  It’s $200/mo for the five of them.  We have demand for ten, but couldn’t support the subscription cost for that many. Also – now wifi available in many county parks and camp sites – could impact demand for the library’s hot spot?

Wifi on school buses 

Two transferable units are now installed and working well. They are used on activity buses as appropriate.  School will pay for these hotspots going forward.  $900/for two hotspots/yr.  These devices can support 50/60 students.

Wifi at Campgrounds 

In partnership with Alliance Communications, free public wifi has been installed at four campgrounds, including a state park and a ball field.  Delivering 100 MG symmetrical. Included 12 months of subscriptions – after that, each city has agreed to pay for ongoing costs.  Parks are allowed to suspend over the winter.  Also installed cameras for the City of Hills to help monitor their unstaffed camp ground.  Cities were very receptive to this project.  They will add a bit to their camping fees to cover ongoing costs.  There is a campground in Jasper, MN, county line goes through the town.  The campground is privately owned by the quarry.  Paperwork for the donation has never been recorded. Goal was to put one in publicly-held property – Jasper is a hold-up, because of the ownership question.

Swift County

We don’t have a champion for hotspot check-outs in our libraries.  Swift County is looking to bring wifi public access to city parks and county parks. Hearing these examples will help me.

Co working space had been a topic.  Looking at new options for an empty building in Benson for some departments – allowing the court house to be a “justice center.”

WORKFORCE

Swift County

Case IH; biggest employer in the county, worked with Ridgewater College to design and deliver a welding course, “Tooling U.”  Students got computers if they needed them.  Full practicum welding training.  16 fully passed the test in 5 weeks, now qualified to get a job as a welder. They had a waiting list. Pay $18-22 hour.  Case provided all the equipment, materials.  People had to agree to come to the classes and wear steel toe shoes.  ~$1000/person cost.  Students kept gloves/helmet.  Innovative program….. first we thought we’d train high school students. Next steps?   Would we do it again? Yes.  But it’s expensive.  We need grant funds for this.  Can DEED fund this for $20,000?  They tend to offer training for folks who already are employed.  Great instructor. That made a difference.  A lot of the success is thanks to great people involved.

Rock County

Community Ed led a project to host an Ag event in mid-August.  70 attendees; fewer than hoped. Good age range. Three speakers: Chip Florry, Ag marketer; a Luverne native who is an Ag precision lecturer; and speaker on security on the farms.  Local Ag groups were very involved.  Lots of vendors.  Alliance. SDSU; Extension. Hyper local presenters was an element of success.  Targeted to farmer/producer.  Banks helped to market.  Folks who attended said they found it very valuable.  No fee to attend.  Instead of 9 – noon, 7 to 10 with beer.  Beer instead of coffee.   Community Ed (Karen) would like to do this again and could take the lead on doing it next time.  Could add vendors – that would help the event be self-sufficient.  As an alternative format, disaggregate the content and offer it once/wk over coffee in a coffee shop?

INNOVATION

Cannon Falls

Business Education

Grow Cannon Falls has hosted chamber breakfasts on using social media and has created a “Discovery application.”  Helps companies do self-assessments of their tech needs/opportunities and then connect with marketing resources to create/improve on-line presence.  Chamber is a one-man show. Looking at how to help modernize the chamber’s connectivity.  Have the chamber be the hub for the community.

Online HS newspaper “The Lantern”

Interested teachers want to help students publish an on-line newspaper are now partnering with Anna Braataas, whom they met at the broadband conference.  About 30-40 students are contributing content.  Also exploring the idea of “relighting” the middle school’s “Candle” newspaper in an online version.

VR Head-sets for memory care residents 

Inspired by a presentation at the broadband conference, four VR head-sets have been purchased for two memory care facilities in Cannon Falls.  Facilities staff received three-hours of training on using the equipment; they are excited.  Headsets are fully loaded with content, plus they get a year of subscription use. $16/mo going forward (per set).  $1,000 per head set fully loaded plus subscription for a year.

Swift County

STEM Camp

KMS schools organized a full-day summer STEM day camp curriculum for 80 elementary grade students. Based on positive feed-back from students and families, Community Ed hopes to continue this next year, but funding is a challenge; the curriculum is expensive.  Maybe expand to Benson, if funding allows.  $5,000 of Blandin investment.

Digital Marketing/Consulting

Ten businesses have received digital marketing assessments and marketing consulting in two rounds of the program. Examples: general hardware store/grocery store dealing with a Dollar General coming to town; a local newspaper that doesn’t have a website; a realtor.  People love her services.  Used a competition format to identify served businesses. Marketing: mailed personalized letters with brochures to business owners.

County Fair App

Our goal: get more youth involved in 4H in our county.  Found someone in Extension in Iowa to help us create and set up an app to server our 4-Hers and their families. It cost us $500/for two years’ subscription.  The app has a spot to sign up, registration forms, calendar of (local) events, registering your fair projects, link to fair campground reservations, links to University site; to training opportunities; options to do push notifications.  Uploaded show books onto the app. First in the state to have an app like this. Helpful during the fair.   Served as a pilot for 4H for the university; U trying to develop something like this for 4H across the state. Was tried out during the fair.  The internet in Appleton is not great. It took four months to build the app.  Marketing through word of mouth, newsletter.  100 out of 300 youth have downloaded it after three months.

There is a need to improve connectivity at the fair: Possible action: county could reach out to Verizon, copy state representative.

DIGITAL INCLUSION

Rock County

Library programming

We’ve had lots of fun programming at the library, including scary story reading at a Haunted Halloween patch, and very successful Monthly Trivia nights at the local brewery. It was so much fun.  Monthly Trivia night at the brewery.  Last month: 96 attendees!  29 teams! 16 – 80 years old.  PBS came to film the event.  It’s very easy to do.  Winners get a gift card.  Trophy.  Use FB and Instagram to promote the event.  1200 followers on Instagram.

Blue Mound Towers

Two computers with internet access were installed in the Blue Mound Towers low-income housing complex in Luverne.  Many residents have mobility issues.  The building’s manager is on the broadband steering committee. When looking for PCs for People recipients, they got involved.  There is public wifi downtown… but it doesn’t reach this housing complex.    Some individual residents also got PCs from PCfP.

Generations Senior Center

The Center lost its partner at ACE (the new version of RSVP)…. and is now beginning a building project that is to include a computer lab with six computers.  So far, three have been set up in a temporary configuration.

Computer Education Videos 

Alliance Communications is producing educational videos to help with wifi problem-solving and posting them on their website and YouTube.  Five have been completed so far: two on equipment trouble-shooting; two on email – trouble testing email issues; one on top ten issues why your wifi isn’t working.  4700 views on one of the first videos.  Customers like the local content/local origin.  16 topics developed so far.  Purchased some equipment and editing software.  Otherwise, not a high cost activity.

Adobe primer editing software. SDN provided advice on camera equipment purchase.

PCs for People

Worked successfully with schools, including a school in Nobles county that serves families that live in Rock county.  Preschool families were solicited.  Distributed a total of 60 PCs in response to demand.

We staffed a presence at the Rock County Fair.  We learned that you need free stuff to get folks to come to your table.

Computer classes at Community Ed 

Classes offered: Tech for Seniors. Some of them were one-on-one classes, including in the library. Google and Google Sheets.  Cyber Security.  E-book. Marketed through community ed.  Community ed charges.  Library does not.  Library does not charge for classes offered at the library.

 

Cannon Falls 

PC for People

We worked with social workers in the schools to identify recipients, and also with retirement homes.  30 families received computers in a distribution event on Sept 22.  Possible partnership with Three Rivers, an affordable housing developer nonprofit.  Hope to give one to local food shelf, but she won’t take them.

 

Swift County

PC for People

The process of working with the schools was really hard.  One school didn’t care – they have laptops for their kids.  Other schools wouldn’t share data.  We managed to give away 30 of 50 computers.  We will work with HRA to continue to distribute the rest.  Want to add an instructional piece on community engagement (census, library access).

 

MARKETING/ADVOCACY

Cannon Falls

Branding:  Local foods has been identified as an economic development opportunity for Cannon Falls and the Use of Cannon Roots is gaining some momentum.

Swift County

Six out of eight communities in Swift County have created community websites.  Some Mayors have told their clerks not to be involved.  Half of communities had no website at all. Golden Shovel is the gateway/host. The committee has tried to promote the regional brand: “Enterprising by Nature.”  People don’t search by counties, they search by cities.  ADA compliance issues have required attention.

Rock County/Luverne 

We are working on social and media marketing optimization. Using a local business for this training.  Meeting with businesses one-on-one for up to six hours/org.  each organization had to pay $100.  Blandin paying for the rest. E-commerce is a big need.  Goal of serving 20 businesses.

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