Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Swift County …
Swift is another fiber to the premise county, having received Border-to-Border Broadband grant funding in 2015. They ranked third in the state based on the 2026 state speed goals in 2019; 4th in 2020. Swift County applied for the BBC program to make sure their residents, businesses, and schools have the tools and knowledge to utilize broadband effectively. How can they do things better, smarter, cheaper and faster?
Swift County’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture. Their largest employer manufactures sprayers and cotton pickers. When assessing local work force needs, the ability to offer vocational training locally, particularly welding, was identified as a major priority. The steering team investigated a variety of possible options and in the end partnered with Ridgewater College in Willmar to offer a four-week course utilizing online classes in addition to onsite training. Students were provided a computer if they needed one. There was a waiting list for the class, and 16 of the 20 participants completed the program. Welding jobs in the area start at $18-22/hour, which represents a significant improvement in wages for participants.
Youth was another focus for Swift County. The BBC team worked with Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg Community Ed to offer a summer STEM Camp for 80 students entering 2nd through 7th grade. Their goal was to provide a low-cost opportunity for kids to learn about robotics, computer coding, technology, engineering, and math. The camp was a success, in fact they exceeded their expectations when it came to registrations. They plan to implement a second camp in 2021, or when it is safe to do so.
Another youth and family-focused project was creation of a Swift County 4-H Extension App. The goal of the app is to connect members and families across the county, provide quick and easy access to program updates and events, and generally promote community connectedness. Benefits of the app are wide-ranging, including easier clean-up at the fairgrounds, since fewer people will be misplacing their paper fair booklets! It will also allow for push notifications for events and schedule changes.
Swift County also helped four small cities without websites develop them, provided hands-on digital marketing consulting to seven small business owners, convened a digital marketing round-table group for community and economic development organizations, developed a system for taking online campsite reservations, and distributed PCs for People computers to an additional 20 income-qualified families.