Making the Case for Public Broadband Investment at the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference

Yesterday Bernadine Joselyn and I presented at the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference about how to convince community members to invest in broadband. We gave a similar presentation at the Fall Broadband conference but the timing seems even better now as communities are working to provide public support to match provider investment in MN broadband grant applications. 

We helped people recognize that a household with broadband sees an economic benefits of $1,850 – which helps a household decide that $20/month or $100/year investment via tax is a good investment.

We were also able to listen to the keynote Amanda Brinkeman, host of Deluxe’s hit HULU series Small Business Revolution. She spoke about the importance of sharing stories to life local businesses – especially using social media. 

That message was reinforced in the second presentation – Growing Entrepreneurial Communities by Pam Bishop and Chris Schad. The comment I really enjoyed from the session was “everyone has a side hustle” and the recognition that with broadband we can turn that sideline into a business. 

Who is taking advantage of online sharing economy? And how?

The NTIA recently released info from a recent survey on who is participating in the sharing economy…

In our most recent Internet Use Survey, conducted in 2017, NTIA included questions about participation in the sharing economy for the first time. The results show that a third of Internet users in the U.S. reported selling goods or requesting or offering services from others through online platforms. This compares with the significant majority of Internet users – 69 percent – who reported using the Internet for more traditional e-commerce activities such as online shopping or travel reservations.

Sharing economy participants tend to be younger, have higher incomes and education levels, and live in metropolitan areas, our data reveal.

It turns out the biggest gap in use was between rural and urban users…

The difference between rural and urban participation was most pronounced in how consumers use peer-to-peer services. People living in rural areas are more like to sell goods online than request services. The data show there is a 64 percent difference between metropolitan and non-metropolitan Internet users when it comes to requesting services, while only a 15 percent difference for selling goods online.

If I had to guess, I’d say the absence of Uber/Lyft type services in many rural areas might explain some of that difference.

How to retain workers in Greater MN? Online training is one tool

MinnPost recently looked at how and why businesses in rural Minnesota are working hard to retain employees…

For the past several years, manufacturers and other large employers throughout Greater Minnesota have been dealing with a shortage of workers – a scenario that has only found staying power in a strong economy with low unemployment….

For some employers, though, labor concerns have less to do with the challenges of attracting employees and more to do with the difficulty of attracting employees who can stick with the job. In response, some businesses are turning to policies that they believe will help them keep their employees once they are hired.

The problems that vex workers are myriad: a dearth of adequate skills; expensive or sparse child care; drug and alcohol abuse; physical disabilities; the lack of reliable transportation; and cultural alienation, especially for immigrants.

They mentioned several approaches to keeping folks around, including remote education…

In the administrative wing of the company, the Tapanis have outfitted a room with a large screen television and computer technology that workers can use to take online classes from nearby Pine Technical and Community College or other schools. (A federal grant to the college helped pay for the equipment.) Among the classes: personal budgeting, technical math, CNC machining basics.

The arrangement allows workers to avoid trips to the college, which might affect their shifts or require them to find more day care for their children. Wyoming Machine pays the workers while they are taking the classes, too.

Wyoming Machine employs a deaf man who has largely overcome that disability with technology, communicating with his supervisors through text messages. For some employee meetings, Tapani hires a translator for him.

Businesses still need better broadband help from Minnesota Government

Hometown Source posts a letter to the editor in response to a previous letter from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon about recognizing where government spending comes from if it isn’t new taxes and, more directly related to broadband, what needs are going unmet

An example of a need that continues to go unmet is the expansion of broadband availability in greater Minnesota. Business owners have been asking for better internet access for years, yet improvements continue to be delayed because of the legislature’s refusal to provide adequate funding. As a small business owner, I know first-hand that businesses are hamstrung without good broadband access. This is a problem that could have been solved years ago with half the amount of funds Loon references.

When the argument that we solved a problem without raising taxes is made, it’s likely because the revenue put towards solving the problem was taken away from solving a different problem. Stealing from Peter to benefit Paul does not move us forward.

EVENT: how to start a coworking space in your community

Looks like an interesting event for anyone who is looking into a coworking space in their area or maybe looking at changes to an existing space…

startup bootcamp: coworking edition

Friday & Saturday, September 13 – 14  |  8am – 5pm

Are you thinking about opening a coworking space in your outstate community? Have you already taken the plunge and are in operation? If so, Startup Bootcamp: Coworking Edition is for you! This event leverages our four years of experience running Workup, a coworking space in Willmar, Minnesota, with our three years of experience running Startup Bootcamps. Together we will target the unique needs of serious coworking entrepreneurs interested in getting started or building on an existing program. This will be a collaborative, hands-on experience meant to help guide your vision, accelerate your planning and build your unique coworking brand. We only have 10 spots available so register early to save your place!

Congrats to Red Wing Ignite’s Neela Mollgaard on moving to Launch Minnesota

Congratulations to Neela Mollgaard on her move to a new position with the State. Neela has been instrumental in the good work of Red Wing Ignite, including several partnerships with the Blandin Foundation. It will be fun to see what she can do on a statewide level!

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Neela Mollgaard, founder of the entrepreneurial support entity Red Wing Ignite, will become executive director of a similar and new statewide program called Launch Minnesota on Aug. 26.

Mollgaard’s task is to build a team that will support entrepreneurs and tech startups and spur innovation that draws “global attention, talent and capital,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development. …

With an annual budget of $2.5 million, Launch Minnesota will pair private businesses and nonprofit organizations and provide financial incentives, training and grants to people starting companies in technology sectors such as aerospace, agricultural processing, nanotechnology and medical devices. The program formally starts Oct. 1.

State of Broadband: better but not good enough

Craig Settles has released a new report (Revving the Community Broadband Economic Engine) on the state of broadband from the perspective of a community. He surveyed members of the International Economic Development Council  (IEDC), and looks at:

  1. the state of broadband
  2. broadband’s impact on local economies
  3. broadband-driven education and healthcare
  4. community broadband money matters

Hard to summarize such an expansive report – but I think the key is asking community members about broadband not the providers. As I found when we looked at community return on public investment in broadband – it doesn’t always coincide with profitability for a provider; just because a home or business is better off economically with broadband, that doesn’t mean they want to send a bigger check to their provider. But what providers with local roots have seen is that the investment is creating greater need (new startup businesses) and stability (greater stability for local residents, means less chance of someone leaving).

Here are some points I found interesting:

Reliability is an issue

It seems that when many communities talk about broadband quality in their area, they often are referring to network speed. But in reality, communities need to focus on reliability as much or more than speed. If kids are relying on the network to take their finals, or parents are relying on telehealth to keep them alive, being 99.99 certain that their network won’t go south tomorrow matters. A lot!

Affordability is an issue

In this year’s IEDC survey, 28% of respondents felt their constituents got great value for the money they spent for broadband. However, 27% say constituents pay too much for too little. Another 27% feel broadband in their area, if they can get it, is so expensive many cannot even afford to subscribe. 17% are happy they can get broadband but feel they should be able to get faster speeds and better service

Supply and Demand creates a vicious cycle in rural areas

On the business side of the equation, the three top barriers to broadband for businesses are codependent on each other. Rural population density, or the lack thereof, is the crux of the problem because without density it’s hard to make the financial case that draws ISPs to the table.

Without core broadband technology, it is hard to attract and retain talented people in the community. And the lack of innovative broadband enhancements after/if a community gets an initial network (because of a weak business case) just starts the circle again.

Broadband is key in economic development strategy

The percentage of respondents who are not sold on community broadband as an economic engine decreased significantly from 29% in 2014 to 13%. However, 38% say broadband is a big part of their current plan, and another 24% are incorporating broadband into their upcoming plans. 25% of respondents report that they do not have plans for using community broadband in their activities, so this stat has changed little in five years.