Lake Crystal and Madelia are certified as telecommuter-friendly communities

I wrote about the big announcement from DEED’s Telecommuter Forward Program last week, but it’s always fun to see local communities get local recognition for their efforts. Mankato Free Press reports

Two area cities have been recognized for promoting the availability of telecommuting options.

Lake Crystal and Madelia are among the first group of Minnesota communities certified as telecommuter-friendly.

These 23 cities, townships and counties across Minnesota are being recognized for their efforts to coordinate and partner with broadband providers, Realtors, economic development professionals, employers, employees and other stakeholders.

Happy Telecommuter Forward Day in MN – esp to 23 participating cities

KSTP News reports…

Gov. Tim Walz on Friday issued a proclamation congratulating 23 cities, counties and a township across Minnesota as telecommuter-friendly communities.

Walz has also declared Aug. 7, 2020, as “Telecommuter Forward!” day in the state of Minnesota.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how important it is for the state to support telecommuting capabilities,” said Walz. “This initiative will help ensure options for remote work expand in our state, improving the quality of life for employees and encouraging economic vitality in communities throughout Minnesota.”

How does a community sign up?

According to the release, under the law, communities must adopt a model resolution that includes a statement of support for telecommuting and a single point of contact for coordinating telecommuting opportunities within their community. Minnesota communities that wish to become a Telecommuter Forward! community can find the resolution template from the Office of Broadband Development on DEED’s website.

Which communities are participating?

The first group of communities certified as telecommuter-friendly are:

  • Cities:
    • Albany
    • Balaton
    • Big Lake
    • Bigfork
    • Halstad
    • Lake Benton
    • Lake Crystal
    • Madelia
    • Monticello
    • North Branch
    • Preston
    • Spring Grove
    • Warren
    • Windom
  •  Counties:
    • Beltrami County
    • Big Stone County
    • Chisago County
    • Cook County
    • Lincoln County
    • Sherburne County
    • Swift County
    • Martin County
  • Township:
    • Greenvale

COVID Funding available at city and county level in Minnesota

The broadband connection here may be tenuous but you have to be online to see the list – and the list may include possible funding for broadband. (Ironic, huh the people who need it most might not see it!) I did want to share this info from the MN Chamber of Commerce because I suspect the info is valuable to many readers…

Businesses around Minnesota need assistance to withstand the challenges of COVID-19. Many cities and counties throughout the state have grant or loan programs available to businesses, so their local economies can compete and thrive. The Minnesota Chamber’s Grow Minnesota! Partnership has compiled a list of available funding at the city and county level.

Find your community on this list, and apply for valuable resources to keep your company operating. If you don’t see your community on this list, email growminnesota@mnchamber.com, and Grow Minnesota! Partnership staff will get back to you with details about your area.

Visit the site to see the list.

EVENT Sep 10: UMN Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference

I remember attending the UMN Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference last year and being very impressed. The event is being moved online. SO even easier to access and the lineup looks good…

The 2020 Conference will be held online on September 10.

To register for the conference please use this link. The cost is $20 per participant.

To stay informed about updates please sign up here!

Tentative Agenda

9:00 am   Keynote Panel –founder stories from Launch Minnesota regions

9:40 am  Break

9:45 am  Breakout sessions

Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance- Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Indian Country

Min-Corps- Online Training Resources for Entrepreneurs in Minnesota

Office of the Comptroller of Currency- Rural Broadband Development

10:20 am Break

10:25 am Breakout networking mixer

10:40 am Break

10:45 am Breakout sessions

Launch Minnesota’s Regional Hubs – Panel on Developing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem across Minnesota

HACER- Workshop on HACER’s Entrepreneurship Program

Speaker 3 to be confirmed

11:25 am Break

11:30 am Keynote – Andrea Stordahl- The story of Minnesota Rust

12:30 pm Closing

EVENTS July 15-29: A series for nonprofits from NetSquared chapters across the US now happening online

One of rare silver linings of the world today, is that distance is no long an issue if you have adequate broadband! (Subsequently without broadband you are likely falling farther and farther behind.)  Here are some opportunities for nonprofits. I used to attend a lot of the local events – so a pro tip, these can be instructive for small businesses too. The folks who present and attend are very generous with their expertise…

Find community and learn with us online. These free tech for nonprofit conversations are hosted by NetSquared chapter leaders and our parent charity TechSoup.

NetSquared chapter leaders and our parent charity TechSoup.

WiFi is essential to farmers and farmworkers – seasonal and all-season

The Daily Yonder reports…

Long before the annual fruit harvest began this year, local public health officials and community leaders were discussing how to support farmworkers and their families during the quarantine. While most conversations focused on housing and personal protective equipment, it quickly became clear that the internet would be critical for two reasons: accessing non-emergency Telemedicine services and providing education for children of farmworkers unable to attend their usual in-person summer classes.

The communities they are talking about span Oregon and Washington – but the picture they paint could be in Minnesota with seasonal and year-round households in rural areas. The article talks about the surveying folks, finding solutions (from WiFi to satellite) but it’s the what, how and why they do it that seems apt for us in MN…

In an effort similar to Dave Anderson’s, the Columbia Gorge Education Service District sought funding through the Covid-19 Gorge Community Response Fund, a partnership between the United Way of the Columbia Gorge and the Healthy Gorge Initiative. The Fund awarded $10,000 to directly support summer education for children of farmworkers through 10 wifi hot spots and satellite phones for instructors in areas without cell service.

“Students haven’t had class for three to four months,” said Jonathan Fost, Migrant Education Program Director. “And now it’s such a bonus and such a bright spot in their day. It’s saying, ‘somebody cares, they’re caring about me and providing academics to me in a safe place, and in an open-air classroom.’”

According to Jonathan, students also access wifi for STEM-based activities that get them moving, exploring nature, and playing games.

While Telemedicine and education are arguably the most important wifi applications, farmworkers are also using the internet for other purposes. Thus far, news, science, and technology are the most frequently searched items.

Wifi interest among farmworkers was instantaneous, according to Hailey Elliott, owner of Tenneson Orchards. When she announced that wifi was available, workers immediately began requesting the password.

“It’s a really nice amenity to allow farmworkers to do things like online bill pay, sending emails to companies, and doing general business,” said Ashley Thompson.

While Covid-related challenges remain, expanding wifi access in orchards has alleviated some of the strain of the pandemic in the Columbia Gorge. The commitment by community organizations and local businesses to this effort also sends the message to farmworkers that they are valuable members of the community, and that their health and safety matter.

Senator Klobuchar proposes legislation to invest $100 billion in broadband

Governing reports…

Standing outside the Nobles County, Minn., Government Center on the afternoon of July 3 with city and county officials, Sen. Amy Klobuchar discussed her proposed legislation that would invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities across the country.

Klobuchar, who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act on July 1. In the House of Representatives, the legislation is being led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat.

They spoke about many reason for needing better broadband…

In rural Minnesota, Klobuchar said Friday, it’s critical that the ag sector has access to high-speed internet.

“With modern-day farming, you’ve got to have access,” Klobuchar said. “I remember when we had avian flu, one of the companies actually put in its own broadband so they could monitor temperature for their turkeys growing.

“These are the kinds of things that are going on all the time. But to me it’s not really separate from the pandemic, because we know it was an issue before the pandemic for students.”

Klobuchar cited statistics that reveal 16 percent of rural households in Minnesota currently don’t have high-speed internet. That translates to about 140,000 households.

“For Worthington at the start of the pandemic … 500 of 3,500 students didn’t have internet access,” she said, explaining that those numbers were eventually cut in half thanks to the efforts of local internet providers.

Metz, who serves on the Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co. board of directors, expressed hope that the bill would provide much-needed funding for infrastructure while also providing a boost for local telecommunications companies.

“That’s why we did this bill,” Klobuchar responded.

Need help starting that business? Here are a few places to go

Launch Minnesota and tech.mn have partnered to publish The Ultimate Guide to MN Accelerators 2020.

Most organizations listed are in the Twin Cities with a few notable exceptions:

  • Red Wing Ignite
  • gBETA Greater MN St. Cloud
  • Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator (Andover)
  • Technology Village Business Accelerator (Prior Lake)

Several of the accelerators have an affiliation with a college. Some seem to focus on one industry or another. Some are more like a college program and others are more like a coworking space. Like looking for a new neighborhood, each has its own charm, you just have to find the one that suits you.

Irish Grocery Store app estimates level of interaction to help plan to social distance

Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) reports…

The Lidl supermarket chain in Ireland is offering its customers a new online chatbot tool that can help shoppers socially distance during the COVID-19 crisis. Customers send the chatbot a message through WhatsApp the time and date they plan to visit a specific store and it will let them know if that’s a quieter, average, or busier time to shop.

According to Lidl’s LinkedIn page, “This innovative approach uses real-time data and customer transaction numbers to determine which hours of the day are quietest to visit and which are busiest, allowing for customers to plan their shopping trips accordingly.”

Not a bad idea. I know I seem to choose the wrong time to visit my grocery store and end up waiting outside for 10 minutes before I get to go in. And as I recall Lidl can get pretty busy. (Lidl is very reminiscent of Aldi.)

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Minnesota’s Children Press archive

Anne Brataas, director of the Minnesota’s Children Press and other enterprises, was our guest presenter.  She described how she is active in the Grand Marais community empowering kids age 5-15 with technology and communications skills around community messaging.  There is a strong focus on entrepreneurship so that kids develop both skills and attitude to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  Most recently, the kids have been creating messaging around community health during the pandemic for residents and visitors to Grand Marais.  Using marketing strategies borrowed from Burma Shave, they find sign sponsors, create the verbiage, and make and install the signs.  Profits go to community projects like a new cover for the practice rolling log at the YMCA or a new sun shield at a local park.

The discussion included active conversation about the current pressures on local newspapers, many of which are cutting the number of papers published per week, including the Duluth paper.  Becky Lourie noted that many of the articles in her very local papers in northern Pine and Carlton County are written by citizen journalists.  We also talked about the ability of local media, especially with active youth involvement, to address the gaps of information around local history, including a focus on indigenous people and other people of color.  Anne calls this “whole history.”  Finally, we had an active social justice discussion on the uneven impact of the pandemic on people based on race and economic status.

Next Tuesday, July 14 at 9 am, we will talk about 5G.  Brian Pickering will be our guest expert.  Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America.  This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology. (See slides.)

Webinar chat: Continue reading

Can we change habits with a hashtag? #MaskUpMN

The connection to broadband is tenuous here – except it’s a great use of technology to help keep our businesses open and our people healthy! Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has started a social media campaign – #MaskUpMN…

With COVID-19 cases surging in other states, and with the busy Fourth of July weekend ahead of us, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your customers and your employees. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage customers to wear masks. The Walz-Flanagan Administration is helping businesses spread the word that by masking up, your customers are helping your business stay open.

We invite you to participate in the #MaskUpMN campaign this weekend to raise awareness that the best way we can keep our economy open is to wear masks. …

But masks are more than just a courtesy – they are the most effective tool we have against the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends that you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in restaurants, bars and all other public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet away from others. The Minnesota Department of Health offers up-to-date guidance on when and how to wear a mask here.

As Minnesota makes progress towards fully reopening the economy, we’ve continued to release updated guidance on best safe practices for businesses. From protocol for managing occupancy to general food safety, you can find stay safe guidance for businesses and organizations here.

They even offer a few suggestions, I’ll include my fave…

Please share the following social media messaging on your channels and encourage your networks to celebrate safely this holiday weekend. We’ve also provided some graphics to accompany these posts, which you can find here.

  • Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota! This weekend, please remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep your friends, family and neighbors safe. #MaskUpMN

This might be a message readers can share with their constituents, clients and favorite businesses.

EVENT June 30: Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies

A message from Blandin…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, we will focus on small-scale economic development strategies perfect for any size community or neighborhood.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

OPPORTUNITY: Small Business Relief Grants Program to Open for Applications on June 23

From MN Department of Employment and Economic Development..

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has announced that the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants Program – which was approved by the Minnesota Legislature last week and signed by Governor Tim Walz on Tuesday – will begin accepting applications next week.

This program will provide $10,000 grants to small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees are eligible. Half of the funding will go to businesses in Greater Minnesota and half to businesses in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, as required by law.

Additional requirements include:

  • $18 million for businesses with six or fewer full-time employees
  • $10 million for minority business enterprises
  • $2.5 million for veteran-owned businesses
  • $2.5 million for women-owned businesses
  • $2.5 million for operators of indoor retail and food markets with an ethnic cultural emphasis

“Small businesses across our state urgently need this relief,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “DEED applauds the bipartisan action to pass this legislation, and we are grateful to Governor Walz for signing the bill quickly so we could immediately get this grant program up and running.”

The application period will begin on Tuesday, June 23 and close at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 2 to fulfill the 10-day period required by the law. A randomized, computer-generated lottery process will be used to select eligible businesses that will receive awards. All awards will be administered by qualified local and regionally based nonprofit agencies, and the grant funds can be used for working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, and other similar business expenses.

To be eligible, businesses must have a permanent physical location in Minnesota and be majority owned by a permanent resident of Minnesota. Businesses must be able to demonstrate hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional eligibility requirements and application information can be found online at DEED’s Small Business Relief Grants page.

A look at rural counties broadband and unemployment

The Cornell Policy Review recently posted an article that caught my eye – Rural Connection: Increasing Broadband Infrastructure to Meet 21st Century Needs. It made the case that rural areas need broadband. Here’s their conclusion…

Time will tell whether or not the efforts to close the rural broadband gap will be successful. Stakeholders in this effort recognize the positive externalities that could come from connecting communities, such as access to health services, education, and infrastructure improvements. Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, said “Without a proper broadband connection, these communities can’t start or run a modern business, access telemedicine, take an online class, digitally transform their farm, or research a school project online,” he adds, “You see this dilemma play out in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, which shows the highest unemployment rates are frequently located in the counties with the lowest availability of broadband. As a nation, we can’t afford to turn our backs on these communities as we head into the future”

It led me to wonder if the best/worst counties for broadband access lined up with best/worst for unemployment rates. So I looked up the most recent unemployment rates, which are from April. So these reflect the first month of pandemic life. Statewide the unemployment when from:

  • March 2020 – 3.6
  • April 2020 – 8.6
  • May 2020 – 9.4

I looked at the most recent broadband rank (for speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 up), unemployment percentage and unemployment rank. I’ll paste the table below. If you download the spreadsheet you’ll see I tried to color-code the top ranking broadband counties and lowest ranking (so best employment) unemployment counties. So red is good.

I was hoping that something might jump out at me as I compared to two statistics. That wasn’t the case. But the info might be helpful on a county level.

Rank 2020 unemployment % unemployment rank
Rock 1 3.8 86
Ramsey 2 9.2 25
Lac qui Parle 3 5.8 76
Swift 4 8.2 40
Beltrami 5 9.1 27
Hennepin 6 8.9 33
Big Stone 7 6.5 66
Dakota 8 9 29
Anoka 9 9.1 26
Pennington 10 10.1 17
Stevens 11 3.8 87
Washington 12 8.2 41
Wadena 13 11.1 9
Cook 14 15.1 2
Lake 15 9.9 19
Olmsted 16 6.9 57
Polk 17 7.2 53
Hubbard 18 10.4 16
Scott 19 9.1 38
Carver 20 7.3 52
Benton 21 9.4 23
Clearwater 22 13.7 3
Clay 23 5.9 75
Winona 24 7.2 56
Steele 25 6.9 59
Crow Wing 26 10.9 10
Freeborn 27 7.9 43
Itasca 28 11.4 6
Chippewa 29 7.8 46
Red Lake 30 9.5 22
Rice 31 6.9 58
Wright 32 8.3 39
Stearns 33 7.9 45
Nobles 34 4.3 85
Kittson 35 6.4 68
Lyon 36 5.5 79
Pipestone 37 4.5 84
Roseau 38 8.4 38
St. Louis 39 10.5 15
Mower 40 6.1 73
Nicollet 41 6.7 61
Blue Earth 42 7.7 47
Dodge 43 6.4 67
Wilkin 44 5.7 78
Waseca 45 8 42
Goodhue 46 8.6 36
Brown 47 6.6 62
Kandiyohi 48 6.1 72
Sherburne 49 9 32
Becker 50 10 18
Pope 51 6 74
Chisago 52 9.4 24
Mahnomen 53 9 30
Le Sueur 54 9.7 20
Morrison 55 9 31
Douglas 56 7.5 48
Houston 57 6.1 71
Jackson 58 5.2 81
Koochiching 59 10.6 14
Watonwan 60 5.5 80
Marshall 61 6.6 64
Cottonwood 62 4.8 82
Wabasha 63 7.5 49
Otter Tail 64 7.9 44
Renville 65 7.2 54
Cass 66 13.2 4
Sibley 67 7.2 55
Grant 68 6.7 60
Mille Lacs 69 11.3 8
McLeod 70 17.4 1
Martin 71 7.4 50
Lake of the Woods 72 10.8 12
Norman 73 8.9 34
Meeker 74 6.6 65
Fillmore 75 6.6 63
Carlton 76 10.7 13
Murray 77 6.2 70
Traverse 78 5.7 77
Todd 79 6.3 69
Isanti 80 9.6 21
Aitkin 81 11.3 7
Faribault 82 8.5 37
Lincoln 83 4.6 83
Pine 84 12 5
Yellow Medicine 85 7.4 51
Redwood 86 8.8 35
Kanabec 87 10.8 11

Working from home saves money and time – but requires broadband on the Iron Range

The Hibbing Daily Tribune published an article from Aaron Brown about working from home. Aaron wrote about the difference working from home has made…

I’ve worked from home about two days a week most of my career. After COVID-19 hit, my employer learned that a surprising amount of work could be done remotely. Not all of it, of course, but more than we might have thought possible.

Awkwardly at first, most of my coworkers adapted to online meetings and working from home. I bought a lawn mower from a local dealer over the phone. An executive from a Fortune 500 company told me about overseeing a billion dollar loan program while keeping an eye on his ice fishing tip-up. A lot of this was just the realization of what was already possible all along.

Then we crunched the numbers. In April my family purchased no more than a half tank of gas for each of our two vehicles. Even when we added a few more trips in May we spent a tenth our normal gas budget. The savings were tangible.

It was the added time that we felt most of all: at least an extra hour each day. Whether driving into a big city or a small town on the Iron Range, all commuters understand the cost — financially, mentally, and physically — of drive time.

And he wrote about what you need to work from home…

For one thing, this means high speed internet and the service infrastructure to support creative work and associated technology. Here, this region has won small victories in recent years. Yet significant work remains unfinished.

A week before last the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools announced an effort to survey needs for high speed internet in rural parts of Itasca and Koochiching counties. They’ve already been doing this in St. Louis County. Coupled with previous efforts by the state Border to Border Broadband initiative, this is the ground level work that leads to expanded broadband access.