Strut Your Stuff Tour in Swift County – hybrid welding classes, 4H app, STEM for kids and more!

We ended the Blandin Broadband tour this week in Kerkhoven, in Swift County. It was fun to hear about new projects such as a free, 4-week welding class. The class is half online and half in person but they graduated 13 people, who are likely to have better jobs soon. Another project that caught my eye was a 4H App that they will be using at the county fair. Parents in the room nearly cheered to hear that there will be one organized place for schedules and updates and winning announcements. I foresee more 4H groups adopting that app as soon as it’s available.

You can learn all about those projects below. Unfortunately the video I took didn’t save. (Using Facebook Live to archive works about 90 percent of the time in my experience.)

4H App

We have Facebook and email to reach out to families. It’s OK but not great so we thought an App that’s a one-stop-shop at the Fair would be helpful. It’s a great way to connect and maybe save on printing.

We reached out to Iowa Extension to help. We are piloting the app for the U of M.

The response from 4H parents in the crowd indicates that this will be well used!! And folks are excited in the easier cleanup and knowing that there will “be enough copies” since apparently they run out. They can push our notifications.

There should be sufficient broadband on the county fairground to work. About 300 kids in Swift County are in 4H.

The cost to use the app software is $600 every 2 years. Then there’s the cost to be in Apple/Windows App stores.

CNH Weld Training

Used Tooling U via Ridgewater to offer free classes over 4 weekends. CNH donated welding equipment.

We got 20 applicants- 14 were certified. The students found it easy to use. We had PCs for People computers for people to use; but we didn’t need them. The hardest part was timing – it ended on prom weekend. The instructor was great.

We didn’t have firm requirements for students. We need to be on the same page with requirements. Age range was about 19-55.

There are a lot of companies in the area that need welders.

We would do this program again – but we’d need grant support because it is expensive. Final budget was about $40,000 – or $3000/graduate.

A traveling welder can make $60-70 an hour!

Community Websites

6 communities that previously didn’t have adequate websites.

All sites will be a part of a County website but can use their own URL.

It’s a wizard developed site but includes community calendar and e-commerce options. We can do reports using ESRI access.

We have encouraged community champions – often the mayor. SO we can customize based on any special ideas that make sense for an individual community.

Working on community marketing plans based on storytelling.

Digital Marketing for Business

Matching businesses with a consultant to help with all aspects of tech needs.
Currently working with the newspaper. The program is going well so far. She asks questions that we wouldn’t know to ask. We plan to work with the consultant for 4 hours.

There isn’t an hourly limit on consulting but they worked on a list of deliverables.
There are so many businesses that would benefit from this type of service, we just need to know how to convince them.

PCs for People

We have 28 families signed up for computers. We were going to align the computers with girls who had gone through horse training program that works on self improvement.

So now we might work on home empowerment program to match computers with new homeowners/renter and help new owners use the computers to access county pages and census.

We are still hoping to get something done this summer – but it’s difficult to work with schools in the summer.

STEM Camp for Kids

Camp is happening now. Partnered with Community Ed. Working with National Investors Hall of Fame. Kids love it. We surpassed the expectation for students.

There was a fee to use the curriculum. Teachers are paid. Everyone loves it! School opened up free space and we had some volunteers.

Total cost was about $5000

The challenge moving forward with broadband adoption programs is keeping the momentum. The key is creating programs that interest people.

Strut Your Stuff Tour in Rock County – Hotspots in libraries, buses and camping sites as well as programming

Yesterday I joined the Blandin crew in Rock County (Luverne, MN) to hear about fun activities happening in the area related to Rock County’s participation in the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) initiative. What’s interesting is the budgets that Rock County has been able to provide to us; some budgets are actual and some are planned. You can probably figure out which is which by context.

It’s been great to hear what’s going on in terms of getting everyone access where they need it. It’s funny to think of broadband on the campgrounds and parks but the age of wanting to go off the grid are gone. People want/need broadband for weather reports, safety into and in parks to allow vendors to sell items (for example at an art festival.) You can watch the meeting as it happened or read my notes below.

Library Hotspots (Total Budget $3,240) Continue reading

Strut Your Stuff Tour in Cannon Falls – using technology to build a food brand and more!

’m out with the Blandin crew talking to communities that are part of the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) initiative to hear about the great stuff they are going in their town. Today we visited with Cannon Falls. You can watch the meeting in its entirely or read the notes below.

Local Food Market – Cannon Roots Continue reading

Looking for tools to grow a vibrant rural community? Blandin can help!

The Blandin Foundation has started a new blog – Groundwork! And here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor. Here’s an intro to the blog, from the blog…

Real change starts with groundwork.

That’s why we’re launching this blog, a collection of stories, perspectives and tools to help leaders, like you, design and claim your community’s future.

I invite you to use the tools offered in GroundWork to explore new possibilities, test existing thinking and rejuvenate your community work.

We see your passion and commitment. We see your hard work. And we proudly stand with you as you reach across boundaries and build lasting connections to strengthen the places we call home.

You are the leaders we’ve been waiting for!

Kathy Annette, President & CEO

Blandin on Broadband eNews: Minnesota Monthly Recap (June 2019) – lots of legislature and tribal land profiles

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences.

2019 MN Tribal Nation Broadband Profiles
Using data and mapping from the Office of Broadband Development, we have profiled broadband situation in reservations in MN:

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Aitkin County finds better broadband would boost economic growth

Crow Wing County
CTC to extend fiber to reach man in Crow Wing County

Douglas County
Runestone Telecom Association brings fiber to area around Lake Andrew, while customers of CenturyLink near Lake Carlos aren’t as lucky.

MN State Fair
gpTRAC demonstrates Teledermatology at the Minnesota State Fair (video)

Rock County
You can now check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Todd County
CTC starts building better broadband to parts of Todd County

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Help Wanted

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Thanks to the good work of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition and politicians keeping their promises, there is $40 million of funding coming through DEED Office of Broadband Development for grants to be distributed over the two year budget.  As a result, many community leaders are now asking “how do we get some of that?”

For most communities, there is a lot of work to do between asking that simple question and receiving a broadband grant.  That work starts with these hard questions:

  1. What infrastructure will deliver the broadband services that we will require to thrive over the next 10 to 20 years?
  2. Will we be content to incrementally improve broadband services with better, but not great, broadband speeds and more, but not ubiquitous, broadband coverage?
  3. Who do we want as a long term broadband partner?

There will be strong opinions on these questions but you must develop your community’s own answers to these critical questions.   By working hard upfront on your community’s broadband vision,  you can avoid being whipsawed back and forth between various technology and provider options.

Blandin Foundation has two resources to assist communities as they pursue better broadband service.  First, 32 hours of technical assistance can be obtained through the Community Broadband Resources (CBR) program. The purpose of this program is to help your community get organized and education and to discuss the three questions above.

The second program is the Robust Network Feasibility Fund program which is a grant of up to $25,000 (1:1 cash match required) that allows communities to refine their options for the development of broadband project and partner alternatives.

Information for both programs can be found at . There is no application deadline for CBR; the next deadline for feasibility fund grants is June 14.

In my experience, communities that skip or shortchange the discussion facilitated through CBR are unprepared to effectively direct their feasibility study consultants towards a desired outcome.  The result is an ambiguous study and a fractured community vision.  My advice: do the vision work up front and then pursue that vision with fierce determination.  Good luck!

Check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Fun news for Rock County Library patrons (as found on their Facebook Page)…

The Rock County Library now has wifi hotspots to check out! We have five Verizon hotspots available for Rock County library card holders 18 years or older with cards in good standing (fees at $5 or below) to check out.

The hotspots check out for two weeks, can connect up to 15 devices per hotspot, and will work anywhere in the United States with Verizon coverage.

Our partnership with the Blandin Foundation and Rock County’s involvement as a Blandin Broadband Community has made this possible.

Blandin on Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN offers learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences.

Apply to be on the next MN Broadband Task Force
Applications are now being accepted for 15 open member seats of the newest iteration of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.

A Better Wireless has a Solution for Rural MN
The Benton Foundation posts a column from A Better Wireless, about the need in rural areas (specifically rural Minnesota) for better broadband to create a level playing field for students.

CN QuickStart
Introducing CN QuickStart, a pre-feasibility study tool to help you understand your community broadband options.

Thriving by Design Minnesota Equity Blueprint First Release
Growth & Justice releases their first Blueprint Report on Human Capital; it reveals challenges and opportunities, along with dozens of practical solutions that will help realize Minnesota’s full human potential.

Minnesotans Winning National Tech Awards
Congrats to Casey Sorenson from PCs for People, featured in the Star Tribune for winning the 2019 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion. And congrats to Brent Christensen, named 2019 Grassroots Advocate of the Year by NTCA.

Blandin Foundation Rural Pulse – how do Minnesotans feel?
Every three years, the Blandin Foundation does a scan of how Minnesotans are feeling about the economy, their future and more. This year they surveyed 1,560 people the results are mixed based on where you live and who you are.

MN Public Broadband Alliance Meeting
MN Public Broadband Alliance hosted a meeting on broadband with the following topics:

  • Partnerships, Where to find Partners, Structures
  • Wireless Capabilities/Hybrid Systems
  • Grant Overviews
  • Financing Options
  • Economic Development and Broadband
  • Legislative Update and Questions

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Local Broadband News

Blue Earth County
Blue Earth County investigates broadband with feasibility study

Crow Wing County
What do you do when the maps are wrong and you aren’t served? One man in Crow Wing County tells his story.

Timberjay suggests that relocating government jobs could significantly boost rural Minnesota economy

Lincoln County
Lincoln County launches broadband grant application

Lyon County
Lyon County promotes app to test broadband speed

Marshall, Pipestone and Worthington
Vast Broadband brings Gig access to Marshall, Pipestone and Worthington

Martin County
Much of rural Martin County has better broadband

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite Cup holds a competition and says congrats to winner, Busy Baby

St Louis County
Better broadband comes to Side Lake in St Louis County

Twin Cities
BestBuy sells device to help telehealth patients have better remote exams

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Finally, a little nice spring weather happening in Minnesota!  It is fun to see trees budding and perennials starting to sprout.  On my little estate, it is a lot of work to clear away the debris of late fall and winter and get my gardens ready to thrive.  There is that one fleeting moment when I think that once this preparation work is complete, I can sit back all summer long, sip a beverage and just enjoy a beautiful view.  The reality is exposed not long after that gardens take tending – pulling weeds, adding some fertilizer, watering thirsty plants and deterring white tail deer.  Neglecting any of these tasks leads to even more work and/or disappointing benefits.  While some plants will do well no matter how little attention you pay to them – hostas, ferns, coneflowers – many need care and attention to prosper.

The same is true of our broadband and community vitality work.  It would be pleasant to think that once a broadband network is in the ground or on the tower that our community work is done.  There will be some businesses, teachers, local organizations and health care providers that make immediate and aggressive use of the new connectivity.  They will gather and post information online, expand their course offerings or market area, and provide a great illustration of technology opportunities.  Unfortunately, there are far too few of these folks.

Many others will greatly enjoy the higher broadband speeds but will not make significant changes without some technology Miracle Grow.  Just as it is to our benefit to water and maintain our gardens so that the tender and emergent plans grow and bloom, experience shows that the more delicate and less aggressive plants need care to reach their full potential.

Many of our broadband communities are aggressively sponsoring technology assessments for business and local organizations.  This service provides immediate benefits to the participants, from simply claiming their Google place to the more complex task of closing security vulnerabilities.  The assessment provides a plan for the user while reducing technology and financial risk and also fear of change.  Consider your local tech vendors as your Master Gardeners.  Give them an opportunity to show the skills and to market their services within your community.  If your area is short on these tech masters, search the surrounding communities and regional centers.  Entice them to visit your community, give them a platform to share their expertise and identify ways to make it worth their while to do business in your community. Or contract with staff consultants from the local SBDC.

Another gardening strategy is to split plants and share with neighbors.  By spreading your tech assessment and development work across various sectors, the benefits of your work multiply. Highlighting success stories is a great way to spread technology adoption in your community.  When one person creates a beautiful boulevard garden, others follow and the entire block becomes a showcase.  Smart community economic developers actively tend your community’s garden.  You should too.  See what grows!