International Conference on Business Incubation in Mpls April 13-17

Looks like an interesting conference…

InBIA’s International Conference on Business Incubation (ICBI) unites a global community of entrepreneurial ecosystem thought leaders who oversee business incubators, accelerators, and other types of entrepreneurship centers that drive regional economic development. Attendees come to connect with InBIA’s global community, share ideas to further the entrepreneurial movement, gather new tools and strategies for their programs, collaborate with peers from around the world, evaluate service providers and strategic partners, and have fun!

ICBI will feature a showcase of services and products to make the job of supporting entrepreneurs easier. The event provides many opportunities for interaction, including:

Innovative plenary activities

Many times and spaces for creating valuable connections

It will be a good opportunity to show off Minneapolis, meet some folks and learn about building business.

Survey shows that digital technology can help rural businesses

The U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (commissioned by Amazon) recently did a survey of 5,300 small business owners in rural America about the economic impact of online tools and technology on their businesses. Below are the highlights of the report…

Digital technology boosts sales and reduces costs for rural small businesses: Online tools and technology help rural small businesses expand their customer base in their own community, neighboring states, and, in some cases, outside of the country as well. Online tools boost sales for nearly 55% of rural small businesses across America. In addition, online tools reduce purchasing costs of products and materials for nearly 29% of rural small businesses.

Small businesses in rural areas are slowly adopting digital tools and technology: Nearly 20% of rural small businesses in America generate the vast majority of their revenue (at least 80%) by selling their products and services online. A slightly larger share of rural small businesses, 22%, purchased at least 80% of their goods and services online.

Rural small businesses utilize digital tools and technology for sales, marketing, and operations: About one-third of rural small businesses sell their products and services through their own websites and nearly 13% sell their products and services through third-party websites. Over 58% of rural small businesses have social media accounts and nearly 36% use online advertising services. Rural small businesses also use online tools for operational tasks such as business banking, accounting, virtual meetings and conference calls, and cloud computing.
Greater use of digital tools and technology could unlock potential in rural small businesses across the country.

Digital technology created opportunities for rural small businesses in the past three years: Digital tools and technology boosted gross sales of rural small businesses by 17.2% during the past three years, the equivalent of $69.8 billion per year. The additional gross sales contributed $38.7 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created 296,288 jobs (full-time equivalent) with $12.1 billion in wages per year. The magnitude of the economic benefits is equivalent to the size of the economy of Vermont or Wyoming.

The economic benefits of digital technologies have not been fully realized in rural areas: If rural small businesses had better adopted online tools and technology, their gross sales would have increased by an additional 18.3% in the past three years, the equivalent of $74.4 billion per year. Consequently, rural small businesses would have added another $41.3 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created an additional 316,605 jobs with $13.0 billion wages per year. These unrealized economic benefits are equivalent to 0.2% of GDP and over 5% of the number of unemployed people in the U.S. labor force.

With greater adoption of digital tools and technology, the potential economic benefits in rural areas are far reaching: If rural small businesses better adopt online tools and technology, their gross sales could increase by an additional 20.8% during the next three years, the equivalent of $84.5 billion per year. This increase in sales could contribute an additional $46.9 billion value added to U.S. GDP per year and create 360,054 jobs with $14.8 billion wages per year. By unlocking the digital potential of rural small businesses, the U.S. GDP would gain an additional 0.2% per year and reduce the number of unemployed people by nearly 6%.

Blue Cross layoffs in Virginia (MN) remind us that diversification via broadband is key to economic vitality

WDIO reports on 40 layoffs at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Office in Virginia. Representative Julie Sandstede uses the event to remind the audience that assets such as broadband will help diversify the local economy…

State Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, added this statement: “I’m frustrated and saddened to learn of these job losses. This decision by Blue Cross Blue Shield is a huge blow to families across the Iron Range. While the number of positions eliminated may be fewer than those at their office in the Twin Cities, proportionally, there will be a much harsher impact in northern Minnesota.

“This news should be alarming to all of us. As we continue to see signs of a slowing economy, this highlights the need to diversify and invest in what will keep our region strong. This includes excellent schools, expansion of infrastructure like high-speed broadband, targeted assistance for economic development opportunities, and other steps forward to ensure all people on the Iron Range can experience an excellent way of life for generations to come.”

Coop broadband noted as a Forces that will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy in 2019

CoBank recently listed 11 forces that they feel will shape the rural economy in this year. Broadband, especially provided by cooperatives, makes the list…

In 2019, electric distribution cooperatives will continue to build out fiber networks in underserved rural markets. Some rural communications providers are concerned about increasing competition, but CoBank continues to believe that over 90 percent of co-op fiber builds occur where service does not exist or is below the FCC standards for broadband.

Broadband is essential to jobs, business, school and thriving communities. State funding would help

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article on the importance of broadband today. They featured a couple of stories:

  • After more than 30 years of doing business in this longtime mill town, Optum Health plans to close its health care claims office this summer.
    The good news is the company’s 90 workers can keep their jobs. The bad news is that offer is good only if they’re able to work remotely. And those who live outside the city limits may not have access to the high-speed internet service they’d need to keep earning a company paycheck.
  • Schwagerl and her husband grow grain and raise pigs. And in her view, internet access is as essential to farming today as a good tractor.
    Schwagerl got high-speed internet on her Prairie Point Farm in 2017, after Big Stone County sold about $4 million worth of bonds on behalf of Federated Telephone Cooperative. The co-op, which had been unable to get funding through traditional channels, used the money to install high-speed broadband for its customers and will repay the county over 20 years. The project also received a $3.9 million grant from the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development program.
    “It made a huge difference in our ability to be efficient in our operations,” said Schwagerl, who is secretary of the Minnesota Farmers Union.
  • Some 140 miles north, in Ada, Minn., Edie Ramstad had been trying to run a worldwide internet company on dial-up service.
    Ramstad owns Weave Got Maille, which makes rings, tools and other supplies for chainmaille jewelry. Her dial-up service was so slow, Ram­stad said, that her employees sometimes had to drive to Fargo, 45 miles away, to upload product images to the company website.
    “We could always tell when the kids got out of school,” she said, “because we’d get booted off [the web].” It was so frustrating that several times Ramstad considered shutting down the business with its 16 employees.
    Last year, Ramstad found an internet provider willing to run lines to her business. But at $800 a month, it’s expensive — and even at that, she said, the service isn’t as good as a typical city-dweller would have in his or her home.

And they quote Bernadine Joselyn from the Blandin Foundation…

“It used to be that broadband was a competitive advantage. Now, it’s a cost of doing business,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for the Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids, Minn. “We believe that broadband and the skills to use it are fundamental to healthy communities.”

Blandin has worked with almost 100 Minnesota communities and invested more than $10 million in broadband initiatives. The current proposal for state broadband funding, Joselyn said, “is really a victory in Minnesota in that it has gotten a lot of bipartisan support.”

Still, the governor’s “moonshot” would simply return annual broadband spending to its 2016 level of $35 million.

Senate Committee to hear about Telecommuter Forward! certification establishment Mar 13

I am going to try to make this meeting, if I do I will livestream it. It’s great to see broadband get used…

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 – 1:00 PM

Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy
Chair: Sen. Eric R. Pratt
1 p.m.
Room 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

Testimony on SF 1816 will be limited to 30 minutes.

If you are interested in testifying on SF 1816, please contact Andy Eilers at

S.F. 2094-Mathews: Telecommuter Forward! certification establishment.

S.F. 1816-Pratt: Wage theft provisions modification and appropriation; written demand for payment to employer requirement.

Technology and technology skills may offset job loss due to automation

The relationship to broadband access and the following article isn’t direct but it feels like there’s a lot of overlap. A new report from the Brookings Institution indicates that many jobs will be lost to automation. And the Midwest will be pretty hard hit with its history of manufacturing and agriculture BUT Minnesota is an outlier. MinnPost reports…

South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana all rank in the top 10 states for jobs with high potential for automation, according to the report. Minnesota, however, is a relative outlier. It’s ranked No. 40, which is the lowest in the region. Only Illinois, which was ranked No. 37, came close.

Part of the reason Minnesota is in better standing is the strong healthcare industry.

Technology is a game changer for the impact of automation…

Just because a job is at risk of automation, Greiner said, doesn’t mean it will simply be eliminated. Very few will be, he said. Instead, many jobs will be “augmented” by technology. The Brookings report says machines will often only substitute for certain tasks, rather than  take over every duty in a present-day job.

Here’s an example: The trucking industry has been working on that by experimenting with platooning, a practice in which semi-trucks synchronize their driving with the help of technology in order to follow each other closely on highways and save gas through drafting. Each truck still has a human driver. Minnesota’s Legislature is considering whether to legalize platooning this year.

Using technology to ease some tasks may be a good thing for businesses struggling to find workers as baby boomers retire. Minnesota currently has more than 140,000 open jobs despite an ultra-low 2.8 percent unemployment rate, a fact attributed at least in part to retiring workers.

“I’d say our department and the data tell us we’re probably going to need automation,” Greiner said. “We’re going to need it to supplement our slowing labor force growth.”

The report also says jobs involving greater automation usually, but not always, bring higher wages in part because people need different skills to operate and oversee the technology. Those higher wages, particularly in rural areas, can spark a stronger economy, which in turn can stimulate more jobs, the report says. Greiner said for that reason it’s still possible that states with a higher risk of automation may be better off in the long run compared to Minnesota.

We talk a lot about access to technology here but this is a good example of the importance of digital skills. Digital skills may help Minnesotans automate jobs on their timeline. Digital skills may lead to innovation that surpasses the hole that automation could leave in the economy. It feels like with increasing access to broadband in Minnesota and a little breathing room we might be able to get ahead of some of these changes.