The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Koochiching Technology Initiative…
The Koochiching Technology Initiative (KTI) coalesced in 2018 out of a longstanding and growing recognition of the importance of internet access and skills throughout the community, which includes both Koochiching County and neighboring Kabetogama region of St. Louis County.
Infrastructure is a major concern for the Koochiching County area. With a small and sparse population, affordable internet service in the region is scarce. The situation became more dire, when a major employer in International Falls decided to close their office and transition their employees to work remotely. Many of the employees did not have adequate broadband connections to work effectively at home. The community responded.
One idea that sparked enthusiasm right away was to open a co-working space for use by the town’s displaced employees, as well as by the many local tourists who increasingly want to stay connected while on vacation.
This conversation led to the creation of Ballan’s iSpace, a converted furniture store downtown. This family-run business, a long-time fixture on main street, had been up for sale for years. When the family heard about the BBC team’s interest in developing a co-working space in International Falls, they decided to convert the building themselves – without financial assistance from the BBC. The tastefully appointed converted space today is available 24/7 to members. Amenities include Wi-Fi, printing services, dining and event space, and a variety of office space options. As a component of the BBC program, the town’s Borderland Young Professionals group is offering scholarships to income-qualifying Ballan’s iSpace patrons.
KTI funded a record total of seventeen projects during the two-year project period, many addressing public internet access, training, opportunities for education and networking around technology and marketing, and promoting the area as a technologically vibrant place to live, work and visit.
In fall of 2018 KTI was invited to participate in the Feasibility Charrette activity at the Border to Border Broadband Conference. They were paired with Paul Bunyan Communications, and together over the course of two days the community team and the telephone coop staff went through a mini-feasibility study process. Conversations continued through the fall and winter. With Blandin support, the community surveyed potential internet subscribers in the region. Based on this work Paul Bunyan applied for, and was awarded, grant funding to expand services in the Kabetogama region of St. Louis County.
“The Blandin Broadband Community program has been a powerful catalyst and inspiration for us to form a strong and diverse team. We have allocated our Blandin funds across a strong slate of local projects which have launched us on a path to becoming our own version of an “intelligent community.” Our engagement with local leaders and stakeholders is strong and we thank you for your partnership in getting it all started.”
~James Yount, Small Town Tech, Inc. & Koochiching Technology Initiative