Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Laurentian Chamber of Commerce

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Laurentian Chamber of Commerce…

The Laurentian Chamber promotes business through education and advocacy to advance the prosperity of the service area, which includes the Quad Cities of Eveleth,
Gilbert, Mountain Iron, and Virginia. The Chamber has identified broadband as critical for economic vitality, civic engagement, and enhanced quality of life and place in the
region. The Laurentian Chamber’s service area struggles with some of the poorest internet in the state.
To address this challenge, they have joined with fellow Iron Range Broadband Communities of East Range and Tower to conduct a joint feasibility study of options for expanding affordable broadband services across their region (details on page 33).
While most projects implemented by the Laurentian Chamber have a business or workforce focus, some cross sectors. Recognizing the paucity of free public Wi-Fi availability in the Quad Cities area, the Laurentian BBC team set out to create more safe places for residents and visitors to access the internet. Better Wi-Fi was installed at the Gilbert Campground, and in three downtown areas in Gilbert. Eveleth, Gilbert and Virginia school districts were funded to install Wi-Fi on school buses allowing students to do homework on long bus rides.

To address their goal of improved profitability for local businesses through enhanced tech literacy and sophistication of use, the Laurentian Chamber BBC team decided to implement a digital marketing and tech audit program modeled on efforts that have delivered great results in other BBCs. Ten area small businesses were selected to receive professional consulting services from Northeast Minnesota Small Business Development Center. These businesses received one-one-one tech advice on topics
that concerned them most — from websites, to POS systems, to social media use along with an actionable report — and included recommendations for next steps, along with up to $1,500 of additional investment in technology or marketing to implement those recommendations.
Other projects developed and implemented by the Laurentian BBC Team include:
• Equipment and technology upgrades to the chamber’s meeting space facilities, enabling the chamber to better serve their members’ training and professional development needs.
• Creation of a virtual interview room at the CareerForce Center to help the region’s
employers attract knowledge workers. The facility will allow job seekers to apply and interview for positions remotely, and can also be used for mock interviews, and other training purposes.
• Installation of an ITV system in the workforce center conference room allowing the center to offer distance learning training content of all kinds. The facility will also be available for public use.
• Creation and promotion of a “Small Business Saturday” mobile app to promote local business. The app will encourage shopping local on Small Business Saturday and throughout the year by enabling push notifications, promoting specials, and giving
customers a resource to find local shopping options.
• Technology upgrades for Rock Ridge Schools including Adobe Creative Cloud software and STEM curriculum for middle schoolers.
• Software training for Mesabi Humane Society staff and volunteers.
• PCs for People mobile internet subscriptions for 75 income-qualified households.

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