DEED Commissioner Grove plans to put MN on the tech map


MinnPost reports

When Steve Grove was appointed commissioner of the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in January, one of his first priorities was to grow the state’s technology sector to compete with cities like Seattle, Boston and Austin.


That agenda is now taking shape with help from the Legislature. In the two-year budget approved in May, lawmakers passed a slate of proposals made by Grove and Gov. Tim Walz to foster startup businesses and build tech companies.

The Legislature re-instituted an “angel” tax credit for people who invest in startups and created “Launch Minnesota,” an initiative focused on nurturing the tech scene with grants, mentorship and collaboration with private businesses. The Legislature also agreed to spend $40 million on a grant program that helps build infrastructure for rural high-speed internet.

DEED did not get everything Grove had wanted, including more spending for broadband internet grants. But Grove, a former executive at Google, said the state is taking critical steps to support a sector that can help create jobs, attract young workers in a tight labor market and put Minnesota on the economy’s cutting edge.

They also report on where Minnesota currently stands in terms of the tech/entrepreneur map…

As a tech region, the Twin Cities is unexceptional. In a 2018 report on tech hubs by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, Minneapolis/St. Paul ranked in the second tier of its top 25 cities and regions in the United States and Canada. The Twin Cities were below 10 other places, including Silicon Valley, San Diego, Raleigh/Durham, Seattle and Boston.

The report found the Twin Cities had the 15th highest share of tech employment and its growth in that sector was below average between 2010 and 2017. The Twin Cities also ranked low in venture capital spending, which is used to seed startups.

The report even found Minneapolis/St. Paul had $40 million less venture capital spending in late 2017 and early 2018 than it did in 2011, in a section comparing post-recession funding to current seed money. Chicago had $645 million less venture capital spending than in 2011, but every other tech hub cited by Cushman & Wakefield saw increases.

In 2018, PitchBook reported Minnesota as having the 15th most venture capital spending in the U.S., ahead of some states with similar populations like South Carolina and Wisconsin, but below others like Colorado, Maryland and Utah. “The lack of capital is a disadvantage,” Grove said. “It’s growing, but it’s not where you’d like to see it.”

In the Cushman & Wakefield report, the Twin Cities also had one of the smallest millennial populations by percentage among tech hubs. Many see a large millennial workforce as critical to a tech economy, especially as the country deals with workforce shortages.

The report did cite low rent and property values in Minnesota as positives — at least compared to other tech areas, which have seen extreme surges. And Grove said Minnesota’s tech scene has a lot going for it, including a host of big companies to learn from, startups with a high “survivability” rate and strong “civic pride” in the tech sector.

Poultry Patrol (think Roomba for chicken coops) great for farmers with broadband

I love this story because I remembered when he presented his invention at the Red Wing Ignite Cup. He wasn’t the winner, but it sounds like the event got him launched. (And a good lesson that winning isn’t everything!)  Northfield News reports…

Minnesota turkey farmers may be getting a different kind of farmhand if Jack Kilian gets his way. The recent College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota graduate has designed Poultry Patrol, an autonomous robot designed to save farmers time and muscle inside their poultry barns.

In addition to completing tasks such as turning bedding, detecting disease, and reading temperature sensors, the four-wheeled robot can measure humidity and temperature—and take video inside the barn so farmers can monitor the turkeys remotely.

Kilian, a recipient of multiple CSE scholarships, including the Lawrence and Marian Robert Scholarship and the Elmer and Betty Schwittek Scholarship, won $12,500 in January to fund the project from the Ag Tech Challenge sponsored by the innovation center Red Wing Ignite.

The other thing I love about this project, it’s another reason to push broadband out to rural areas…

After Poultry Patrol, Kilian hopes to keep working in the agriculture tech industry. He said he’s already working with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to get broadband installed in more rural areas so that farmers can use internet in their turkey barns. And after that, the opportunities for more technological advancements will present themselves.

“There’s an endless number of things I could be working on just in agricultural robotics, so that’s going to be my focus for now,” he said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities still left unexplored.”

Broadband – not just for people anymore.

Paul Bunyan Communications Announces Construction of New Customer Service and Technology Center in Grand Rapids

Great news for Grand Rapids from Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan Communications has announced they will be constructing a key, new facility in Grand Rapids beginning this summer and opening in the late spring of 2020.

“It’s our hope that our new customer service and technology center will be a great addition to the Grand Rapids community and reinforce our cooperative’s commitment to the city and region.  It will also position us to better serve this important and expanding part of our service area well into the future.  I’m very excited that our employees, growing membership base and potential new customers will soon benefit from this great new facility,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO & General Manager.

The member-based, non-profit cooperative began expanding its all-fiber optic network to the Cohasset and Grand Rapids areas in 2004. Since then, Paul Bunyan Communications has continued to aggressively expand to rural areas of Itasca and St. Louis counties providing state of the art, gigabit Internet and other communication services to areas lacking these critical services  Paul Bunyan Communications is now the largest broadband cooperative in the state of Minnesota.

“I’m really excited that Paul Bunyan Communications is investing in a new customer service and technology center here.  The cooperative provides first class communication services to the region and with their commitment to local customer service also provides many good paying jobs in the technology field.  I can’t wait to see their operations move to this beautiful new facility next year,” said Rick Blake, Grand Rapids City Councilor

“We are excited that Paul Bunyan has committed to expanding their office and service delivery in Grand Rapids.  They are an important partner in our community.  Economic development is currently one of the priorities of the County Board.  Expansion of high speed internet is vital to that growth and improved customer service will certainly add benefit,” said Davin Tinquist, Itasca County Board Chair.

“Paul Bunyan has played an integral part in ‘connecting’ much of Itasca County through their broadband expansions,” said Tamara Lowney, President of Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC).  “We value their partnership with IEDC and their continued investment into our area, both through their expansion and their community minded investments.  Their leadership in providing broadband to our rural communities in critical to attracting and retaining our workforce and families.”

The first Paul Bunyan Communications office in Grand Rapids was in leased space in the Central Square Mall from 2005-2008.  To meet growing customer demand, their current larger leased retail space was opened in 2008 on Pokegama Ave South which will remain open until the cooperative-owned facility construction is complete.

The construction manager of the project is Kraus-Anderson (KA), one of the nation’s premier commercial general contractors and construction managers. Paul Bunyan Communications and KA have put a priority on hiring local contractors who are members of the cooperative for the project whenever feasible.  KA has a deep and valued relationship with Paul Bunyan Communications, having constructed portions of their cooperative headquarters in Bemidji along with several additions, network facilities and remodeling projects.


Growth & Justice Blue Print – economic development discussed in Little Falls

Yesterday Growth and Justice released the latest section of the Minnesota Equity Blueprint – with special focus on economic development. The event was held at Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace in Little Falls, MN. We heard from folks from Region Five Development Commission, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, Five Wings Art Council, The Initiative Foundation and others.

You can watch the meeting in its entirety below.

Growth & Justice does a good job promoting rural and urban partnerships. Yesterday they talked about entrepreneurship, childcare, welcoming new people into the communities (immigrants and others), using art for placemaking and more. (The next section should address broadband more directly. Can’t wait!) These are the issues that are thorns in the side of residents.

It was interesting to hear from the presenters and the questions they got. Region Five has a program where they work with businesses and communities to be more welcoming – again of immigrants or others, like new graduates.  There was a small group of protesters, who did not like the idea of welcoming immigrants. They didn’t think their community needed it. Region Five explained that businesses and communities came to them for help. They aren’t door knocking for clients. Receiving their welcoming service is NOT mandated or required to receive a grant, loan or other service.

The vocal minority thought they spoke for the community – but clearly they didn’t speak for the whole community because Region Five has a waiting list for their welcoming services.

It reminded me of broadband discussions in some communities. Generally businesses want broadband. Generally anyone with kids in school wants it. But sometimes there is a group of vocal and/or powerful (on boards or otherwise in a decision-making position) who doesn’t think the community wants to invest in broadband. I remember attending a meeting in Sunrise Township where board members needed some persuading to understand that many people wanted broadband. (Now they have it.)

Communities without broadband have difficulties retaining, never mind attracting new residents and businesses. At the Growth and Justice meeting I was reminded that the State Demographer has reported that immigration is fueling population growth. Communities that aren’t welcoming will have difficulty attracting new residents. Broadband and immigration are coming; communities ignore that fact at their own peril.

“I need better internet period!” says local business in St Louis County MN

Businesses from St Louis County are speaking after the broadband meeting in St Louis County yesterday. A theme emerge as they all say – we need better broadband. After the meeting I heard from Jon Benz at JM Retrievers. They board, train and breed retrievers. Here’s what Jon had to say about local broadband…

I need better internet period! Cost effective and would help my business a lot. From credit card processing to website design, which I do myself, videos and photo uploads to help me sell products and services. I have to wait sometimes hours to download files that people send me. And hours to upload sale videos etc.

Broadband is a must for us to survive for many aspects of our business. I get more online contacts for bookings numerous days than by phone. I barely have Internet through access broadband line of sight service.

I like the provider as a company but they don’t have the speeds that I need to make my business more efficient in many ways. The first few years I didn’t have them it was a struggle. It can only get better.

Fiber to the farm means food to the people in St Louis County

It’s great to hear about a family that is really thriving in a rural area thanks to fiber. And I love it even more when it helps make the case that fiber to the farm makes a difference to quality life. And in this story, that quality of life is rippling to the neighbors and beyond.

“We love our farm and our customers. We have a wonderful life!” Wycoff Family.

Shannon and Mary Ann Wycoff and their three grown children have a family farm called  Bear Creek Acres. It something they started to provide for themselves but people kept asking if they’d be willing to sell what they were raising. They sell beef, pork (in bulk – picture buying half a hog and in individual packages) and eggs. They sell to both individuals and through Natural Harvest Food Co-Op, Trapline C-Store, -Moose Bear Wolf and local Farmer’s Markets. They are members of Minnesota Grown since 2008.

If you have never purchased directly from the farmer, they will walk you through the process. It’s ironic to see how technology is allowing people to go old school – to buy directly from the farmer who uses no antibiotics, no hormone and no animal byproduct.

Fiber to the farm helps them promote their products but it also helps them work from home. Shannon works at Northshore Mining but Mary Ann works at BCBS MN from home via a fiber-to-the-premise connection.