Which students are left behind when learning goes online? Spoiler alert, there’s no spoiler

As every parent, teacher and student in Minnesota waits to hear later today from Governor Walz about how the State recommends schools handling pandemic learning this fall, I think it’s helpful to look at who is left behind when/if we move education online.

Online education is tough enough when all of the tech pieces are there; lack of computer and broadband makes is almost insurmountable. Only last year, report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota is one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. We need to find ways to make that gap more narrow and shallow. Proving access to adequate technology is a small, but necessary step because as the report below shows, technology does not currently help to close that gap. And the irony is, it could.

Here’s the status as Future Ready Schools reports…

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection.

Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.”

According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.

Here’s what they found in Minnesota:

Percentage of Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 19%
Number of Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 264,334

Minnesota By Income

Percentage of Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 40%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 50,660
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 66,298
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 24%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,869
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 15%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 74,704
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 9%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 27,803

Minnesota By Race

Percentage of White Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of White Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 184,337
Percentage of Asian Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 14%
Number of Asian Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 12,461
Percentage of Black Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 27%
Number of Black Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,036
Percentage of Latino Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 35%
Number of Latino Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 30,226
Percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 37%
Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 9,655

Minnesota By Location

Percentage of Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 79,087
Percentage of Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of Children in Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 182,209


COVID exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots – starting with healthcare facilities vs broadband providers

High Plains Journal reports on a recent webinar on rural telehealth…

A July 15 webinar on those issues was hosted by Kevin Oliver, lead relationship manager at CoBank, part of the Farm Credit System that supports key initiatives in both rural broadband and healthcare. Titled “COVID-19 Impacts On Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” it is the fourth in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars sponsored by CoBank. The speakers were Rick Breuer, CEO of Community Memorial Hospital, located in a rural area of Minnesota just west of Duluth; and Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, which provides connectivity services in western Kansas via coaxial cable, copper wire, fiber and wireless.

I was especially interested in the bottom line impact to the broadband providers versus the healthcare facilities (the tele vs the health)…

Oliver noted that the cost dynamic was different for health care facilities and communications. Health care facilities saw a simultaneous increase in costs and decreases in revenue. On the other hand, communications companies have added customers and grown more quickly than they might have otherwise. While some payments are in arrears, “most of those arrears will be collectible,” said Moyer—whether from customers, or by laws like the Critical Connections Act that reimburses communications companies. Moyer said Pioneer had “donated” about $500,000 worth of connection services that may or may not be reimbursed.

Breuer said he doesn’t expect revenues at the hospital to return to anything like their full levels for at least a year.  The hospital has managed to avoid layoffs or furloughs, “but we’re getting [through] by the skin of our teeth.” Whatever happens with COVID, he said, “telehealth will definitely be part of our future. Home and hospital connections are equally important, since telehealth often happens from home.”

Breuer noted that until recently, he had to drive his kids into town to access hot spots so they could do their homework. One hospital sectioned off part of its parking lot for customer parking to use its hot spot, whether for medical tele-visits or other reasons. He also noted the vulnerability of rural networks, with little or no redundancy. He said one gnawing squirrel recently took down connectivity for a 50-square-mile area.

His hospital could not have kept its doors open without help from 10 separate funding organizations, said Breuer—but that in turn created a lot of documentation paperwork. He said independent clinics have been the worst-hit by the COVID crisis, especially those that service mostly rural populations but that don’t technically qualify as rural health clinics for one reason or another. Breuer supports changing those designations to allow more clinics to be helped.

Moyer supports what she calls contribution reform. Bill surcharges are based on an outdated model of long-distance service, now that texting has taken the place of phone calls for many. Fortunately, “the COVID crisis has focused the attention of many in Congress. I’ve been talking about all these connectivity issues for 20 years,” she said. “The silver lining is a lot of other people are focused on this issue now too.”

For so many years, the providers have invested (often with public support) in the networks that have made millions for private industry without reaping the same benefit. (A couple years ago, I looked at the community ROI of public investment in rural broadband – the community sees the return much more quickly than the provider.) It will be interesting to see what happens with healthcare and telecom/broadband. Many broadband providers are being generous with free/low cost connection right now and hopefully that will be an investment in a future paying customer. While the hospitals are in a different situation – the article points out that “163 rural hospitals have closed and about 600 more are vulnerable, or a third of all rural hospitals in the United States.“

Broadband Roundtable on Minnesota Rural Mental Health and Telehealth Notes

Today we talked about rural mental health and telehealth. My favorite takeaway is that increased use, social acceptance and funding for telehealth might be one of the few silver linings of the COVID19 pandemic. A big thanks to everyone who joined today the experts on the our call:

  • Mark Jones, MRHA Executive Director
  • Sue Aberholden, NAMI Minnesota Executive Director & MRHA Board member
  • Teri Fritsma, lead research scientist, MDH Health Workforce Planning and Analysis

We started with a great overview from Teri on who/how/where people are using telehealth in Minnesota. It has picked up considerably since the pandemic and people who can access it are finding that it’s been a great tool. (Many plan to continue use post-COVID19.)

Sue talked about the efficacy when the conditions are right. Telehealth is easier for many patients and their support people (parents, kids, spouses, employers) becuase it requires no travel. But there are challenges with limited broadband, minutes of smartphanes, privacay issues. I loved the story of the procuring headsets for teens to increase privacay at home. Anyone of an age, where maybe you were asked to the promo on the kitchen phone, knows the utter lack of privacay. I’m glad there are better solutions now.

Mark talked about policy changes that have happened and need to happen. Two biggies – reminburesemnt for distance appointments and abaility to use technology that was not previously allowed due to HIPPA. Removing those barriers really opened up opportunities.

We heard from Mary DeVany, gpTRAC. They have the ability to offer assistance!

Finally we learned abotu Mobile Mental Health Crisis Teams. They are in every county. It’s the group you’d want to call in a mental health emergency. And there are efforts to get them connected with 911 – so that they can help triage folks to the police or mental health experts.

Chat Transcript:

  • 00:35:25              Ann Treacy:        Here’s a link to NAMI MN for workplace – Sue may have something more specific
  • https://namimn.org/education-public-awareness/workplace/
  • 00:59:11              Mary DeVany, gpTRAC:  Just a bit of information…If you are looking for more information about telehealth, please know that the Great Plains Telehealth Resource & Assistance Center (gpTRAC.org) is available with resources and can assist with training and building awareness.  We are a federally-funded program out of Univ. of Minnesota.
  • 01:08:31              Natalie Matthewson:      Will we get the slides that Teri used for her presentation?

Many advantages to living in rural MN – broadband isn’t always sone of them

Channel 6 News (Rochester MN) uses a recent report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development To talk about the cost and advantages of living in rural Minnesota…

Several local representatives agree with the benefits but say work can still be done to keep our region connected and thriving in this digital age.
The report states that an average adult would have to make $20 per hour hypothetically to live in the twin cities metro.

By taking a trip south on Interstate 35 or Highway 52, you could see that average drop to $14 per hour.
This quite possibly, making rural Minnesota a more attractive location for families.

Access to broadband is one exception…

But there’s at least one issue that many lawmakers continue to fight for in rural Minnesota.
Access to high-speed internet could give families more of the freedom to decide where they want to live and work from in a COVID-19 world.
“If there is access to high-speed broadband, I see a real rural renaissance where families choose to live in our smaller towns,” Sen. Nelson said.

I’m glad that they are aware of the issue and are prioritizing equitable access to broadband. I want to point out that while some areas in rural Minnesota don’t have adequate access, some have very good access. I mention this both to recoginze the areas that do have good access but also to point out that leaves the areas without access in gerater peril in terms of sustaining and growing their population.

With COVID-19, Telehealth was implemented quickly in rural area – they need more help

Broawnfield Ag News reports…

Rick Breuer, CEO of Minnesota-based Community Memorial Hospital, says they were going to spend a year preparing a telehealth platform for the community and instead had it ready in two weeks because of COVID-19.

“A lot of rural facilities were in the exact same boat because you just had to if you were going to maintain viable service,” he says. “So, we did it and we had a great team that got it up and running and we had very patient providers willing to work through all the bugs,” he says.

He says telehealth services will remain in place long after the country recovers from the pandemic.

Breuer and Moyer say assistance from the administration has helped, but more must be done in the future.

Breuer says there are some rural clinics that haven’t been eligible for assistance, but he hopes they will be soon. Moyer says she’s hopeful Congress will address universal service and the Keeping Critical Connections Act.

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.

Highlighting the benefits of telethealth in treating mental health in rural MN

MinnPost interviews Kristi K. Phillips, chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Rural Health, Phillips, who lives with her family in Litchfield, about the impact of telehealth in rural Minnestoa…

MP: I grew up in a small town. Back then nobody talked about their mental health. I’ve lived in the city for decades and many people here now seem pretty comfortable talking about mental illness. Are attitudes changing in rural communities?

KP: There is still a perceived and real stigma in rural communities about seeking mental health care. If you’ve ever been to a waiting room in a rural clinic, many times it’s like a social hour. It seems like everybody’s there. When you are wanting a zone of privacy around your mental health, this kind of thing makes people hesitant to go in.

One silver lining is telehealth. Since COVID hit, and I’ve been able to provide remote mental health services. Because of that, I’ve seen more famers and farm families than ever. More clients are willing to meet with me via telehealth because it offers more privacy. They don’t need to come into the clinic and risk seeing all their neighbors in the waiting room.

MP: Clearly the privacy that telehealth provides is a major plus. Do you see other benefits to remote therapy?

KP: Things are just so much more spread out in the country. I’ve had clients who’ve had to drive an hour each way to see me. At harvest time, that kind of time commitment is just not possible. Telehealth opens up new options. I can be working with patients wherever they are. They can have an appointment on their smartphones. My therapy appointments last 45 minutes to one hour. Telehealth makes that time commitment more obtainable for busy people. And we can schedule appointments at flexible times. I can work around their schedules.

MP: That flexibility is probably important, because people are juggling so much right now.

KP: Since I began offering telehealth, I’ve had almost a zero percentage of no shows. That’s completely the opposite of how it is for in-person appointments. If someone isn’t there at the scheduled time, I can almost always reach them: Most people carry their cellphones with them wherever they go. Maybe they’ve been distracted and forgotten their appointment. When I reach them on the phone, they’ll say, “I completely forgot the time. Let me pull over.” They can meet with me wherever they’re at.

MP: Is telehealth particularly helpful in Greater Minnesota, where mental health providers are few and far between?

KP: In Litchfield we are an underserved shortage area for mental health care. This is where I think telehealth can be especially helpful. If people don’t show for their in-person appointments, it is difficult to fill. We don’t have many of those kinds of issues with telehealth. People who are actually registered for appointments are getting seen. And we can see more patients in a day. People don’t feel like they have to take a half day off work just to travel to an appointment. They can say, “I’ll see you over my lunch hour,” and we can make that happen.

There are so many benefits that have come from telehealth. It’s unfortunate it took a pandemic for us to finally get comfortable with using these tools to make our lives better.

MP: After hearing your enthusiasm, it almost seems silly to ask you this, but do you see any disadvantages to telehealth?

KP: You do miss some of the micro-expressions that you’d observe in person. Some clients say they find telehealth impersonal or uncomfortable. But the benefits exponentially outweigh those types of issues.

MP: Do you hope to continue offering telehealth as an option for patients into the future?

KP: Yes. The majority of my patients want to be seen by telehealth.

Telehealth more important during pandemic as facilities close – increasing need for adequate/affordable broadband across MN

Medical Express recently posted an article that reports that telehealth is an important tool for rural hospitals for treating COVID-19

Telehealth connects patients with doctors by computer or telephone when in-person appointments are not possible or safe from disease transmission.

“It’s a relatively easy way to expand access,” Feyereisen said. “More health care access is good. It’s one of the goals of the system.”

Minnesota is one of the states the publication recognizes as a leader…

Puro and Feyereisen concluded that talking with doctors remotely is an important part of improving rural health care. The odds of hospitals to provide telehealth services vary, with Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas leading the way among the nine regions designated by the U.S. Census.

While Becker’s Hospital Review reports further telehealth accolades for Minnesota…

Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health this month received Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Trailblazer Award for its efforts to improve virtual care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentia Health launched its virtual visit program March 18, a month ahead of schedule, to accommodate patients during the healthcare crisis. The health system trained more than 1,200 primary care providers and physicians representing at least 60 specialties in how to conduct virtual visits.

“We knew we had to step in and fill a void that was quickly created by our patients not being able to come to see us,” Essentia Health CEO David Herman, MD, said in a news release. “We literally went from zero virtual visits to about 3,000 virtual visits per day in less than three weeks.”

The numbers are as staggering as the need. And diagnosing and treating people without exposing them to coronarvirus or other germs is obviously beneficial – especially (as I always add) for the folks who have adequate broadband to take advantage of the opportunities.

For those folks on the opposite end of the digital divide this pandemic has been hard with limited access to school work, economic opportunities and healthcare. It has meant sitting in library parking lots using their wi-fi, missing opportunities and longer drives to healthcare facilities.

And those drive just got longer as HealthPartners just announced that 7 of their clinics will not be reopening…

– Central Minnesota Clinics, St. Cloud.

– Highland Park Clinic, St. Paul.

– Park Nicollet Shorewood Clinic, Cottage Grove.

– Regions Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, St. Paul.

– Regions Maplewood Behavioral Health Clinic.

– Riverside Clinic, Minneapolis.

– Stillwater Medical Group, Mahtomedi.

– Westfields HealthStation, New Richmond, Wisconsin.

HealthPartners says the pandemic has caused it rethink its business and where it needs physical locations, which comes amid a major increase in telehealth video visits as a result of the pandemic.

It really pushes the need to get everyone connected as it becomes a great healthcare concern. In rural areas, that often means making it available; in urban areas it means making it affordable!


Access to computers, devices and broadband is barrier to some in tribal areas – so phone use is taking over

The Circle: Native American News and Arts writes on the limited reach of telehealth – especially for elders and those without broadband…

A quick survey with Native tribes and urban Native American groups in Minnesota shows the divide is probably most acute with elders not technologically savvy to use telemedicine opportunities to confer with doctors or others.

People needing medical attention not related to COVID-19 may need a computer to learn how to use their telephones to confer with medical professionals through telephones and various smartphone devices using Zoom and other visual applications.

One solution has been to open up use of the telephone…

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), the state’s point department for administering the state’s Minnesota Health Care Programs (MHCP), and the Indian Health Board in Minneapolis have helpful resources for turning to telemedicine conferences as a stopgap measure while taking precautions against exposure to the virus.

Again, that information is not easily reached by elderly who do not have computers and Internet service, by the homeless, by people in temporary housing with friends or relatives, and others the Philly writers describe as on the downside of the digital divide.

“Expanding telemedicine coverage and allowing many services to be delivered via telephone have been essential steps to accommodate social distancing and isolation necessary during this public health emergency,” DHS said in a prepared statement for The Circle.

“This includes assessments and services provided to enrollees (in Minnesota state programs) who are elderly and disabled.”

To help medical providers make telemedicine more available to state program enrollees who may not have technology devices or reliable broadband service, DHS expanded providers’ use of telephone calls when doing so was considered safe and effective.

EVENT June 17: Webinar – No Place But Home – Is This Rural’s Moment to Become Intelligent?

From the Intelligent Community Forum, with Blandin Broadband Communities broadband coach, Bill Coleman

People living in cities became anxious during COVID and remain that way in its aftermath. Cities are frayed and at a tipping point. There is a significant ongoing debate about the advantages of density. The ability of broadband connectivity to offer rural and small communities adequate online services and the opportunity to be part of a global economy is transformative and able to truly deliver the promise that “middle of nowhere is no more.”
Is this the moment rural and small communities have been waiting for?
Will the exodus to the countryside rebalance the human social experience? Maybe. But is the rural ecosystem ready, able or even willing to take on the potential flow out of cities? Broadband is where we start, but it is not ONLY about broadband or smart technologies. Preparing the rural community for a new era demands a more holistic approach. Will rural healthcare, education and services be up to the task?
We explore this issue with Intelligent Communities from the rural sector, experts and providers of connectivity.

Click here to register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_sYp5Ak2FSuuXIQZlrLollw

Speakers include:

  • Bill Coleman, Founder, Community Technology Advisors
  • John G. Jung, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum
  • Lou Zacharilla, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum (Moderator)

Bill Coleman helps communities make the connection between telecommunications and economic development. As principal in Community Technology Advisors since 2000, he assists clients develop and implement programs of broadband infrastructure investment and technology promotion and training. Coleman believes that both are required for community technology and economic vitality. Prior to forming Community Technology Advisors, Bill managed Onvoy’s (now Zayo) Integrated Community Network (ICN) rural market development efforts. ICN, a Nortel Networks sales process, was a superb market development strategy to link a community’s economic development planning to telecom providers’ broadband infrastructure business planning, creating a win-win environment for providers and communities. Earlier, Bill staffed the MN Department of Trade and Economic Development Star City and Business Retention and Expansion Programs, working with local community teams to vision, strategize and implement local economic development programs. Bill is a current board member of PCs for People, a non-profit dedicated to getting computers into the hands of those without. He is a former board member of the Economic Development Association of Minnesota and the Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education.

ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum’s leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. More

Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Top7 and Intelligent Community of the Year Awards programs. He helps the New York-based think tank communicate the importance of developing viable and innovative communities and cities audiences worldwide and oversees the new Institutes of the Intelligent Community Forum around the world. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events. He appears regularly in the media to discuss the impact of broadband and access technologies on the rebirth of the world’s communities. More

Click here to register for this webinar:

June 17, 2020 at 2pm – 3pm | Eastern Time (US & Canada)

2020 MN Broadband County Ranking for speeds of 100/20 – how do you rank?

The new MN County broadband maps are now up on the Office of Broadband Development websites- showing percentage of each county with (and without) broadband access. Earlier I looked at how counties ranked for access to 25/3 (the 2022 MN State speed goal) soon I’ll look at Gig access. You can download the full spreadsheet of MN county details for speeds or 100/20 and Gig.

Here I look at how counties rank for access to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up (the 2026 speed goal).

Top 10 MN Counties for Speeds of 100/20 (drum roll please)

  1. Rock 99.93
  2. Ramsey 99.84
  3. Lac qui Parle 99.57
  4. Swift 99.5
  5. Beltrami 99.25
  6. Hennepin 98.97
  7. Big Stone 98.6
  8. Dakota 97.42
  9. Anoka 97.14
  10. Pennington 96.95

The counties in bold are returning to the Top 10 list. Pennington is a new addition; they replace Stevens, which comes in at number 11 with a percentage of 96.79. Congrats and nice work to these counties‼

Bottom 10 MN Counties for Speeds of 100/20 (starting with worst)

  1. Kanabec 26.41
  2. Redwood 36.48
  3. Yellow Medicine 37.71
  4. Pine 39.13
  5. Lincoln 40.42
  6. Faribault 40.56
  7. Aitkin 46.66
  8. Isanti 48.63
  9. Todd 49.12
  10. Traverse 50.97

The counties in bold are returning to the Bottom 10 list. I want to congratulate the counties that are off the bottom 10 list!!

  • Becker from 87 to 50 (with 73 percent coverage up from 6 percent last year!)
  • Otter Tail from 82 to 64 (with 66 percent coverage)
  • Norman from 85 to 73 (with 54 percent coverage)
  • Mahnomen from 86 to 53 (with 72 percent coverage)

Finally my favorite statistic – the most improved counties.

Top 10 Most Improved County by ranking

  1. Becker improved by 37
  2. Mahnomen improved by 33
  3. Hubbard improved by 27
  4. Roseau improved by 10
  5. Isanti improved by 8
  6. Kittson improved by 8
  7. Norman improved by 8
  8. Grant improved by 7
  9. Clay improved by 6
  10. Lac qui Parle improved by 6

You can download a spreadsheet of ranking for 2019 and 2020. Or see the full list below. I know the table will not transfer well to the website BUT it will be searchable.)

Rank 2020 Ranking 2019 Change in rank
Aitkin 81 80 -1
Anoka 9 8 -1
Becker 50 87 37
Beltrami 5 6 1
Benton 21 20 -1
Big Stone 7 5 -2
Blue Earth 42 39 -3
Brown 47 44 -3
Carlton 76 73 -3
Carver 20 23 3
Cass 66 68 2
Chippewa 29 31 2
Chisago 52 51 -1
Clay 23 29 6
Clearwater 22 17 -5
Cook 14 13 -1
Cottonwood 62 59 -3
Crow Wing 26 21 -5
Dakota 8 7 -1
Dodge 43 41 -2
Douglas 56 56 0
Faribault 82 77 -5
Fillmore 75 70 -5
Freeborn 27 25 -2
Goodhue 46 50 4
Grant 68 75 7
Hennepin 6 4 -2
Houston 57 57 0
Hubbard 18 45 27
Isanti 80 72 8
Itasca 28 27 -1
Jackson 58 55 -3
Kanabec 87 84 -3
Kandiyohi 48 47 -1
Kittson 35 43 8
Koochiching 59 46 -13
Lac qui Parle 3 9 6
Lake 15 14 -1
Lake of the Woods 72 65 -7
Le Sueur 54 52 -2
Lincoln 83 76 -7
Lyon 36 30 -6
Mahnomen 53 86 33
Marshall 61 66 5
Martin 71 64 -7
McLeod 70 63 -6
Meeker 74 74 0
Mille Lacs 69 67 -2
Morrison 55 53 -2
Mower 40 36 -4
Murray 77 69 -8
Nicollet 41 37 -4
Nobles 34 40 6
Norman 73 85 8
Olmsted 16 15 -1
Otter Tail 64 82 -2
Pennington 10 11 1
Pine 84 81 -3
Pipestone 37 35 -2
Polk 17 19 2
Pope 51 54 3
Ramsey 2 2 0
Red Lake 30 26 -4
Redwood 86 83 -3
Renville 65 62 -3
Rice 31 28 -3
Rock 1 1 0
Roseau 38 48 10
Scott 19 18 -1
Sherburne 49 49 0
Sibley 67 61 -6
St. Louis 39 38 -1
Stearns 33 32 -1
Steele 25 22 -3
Stevens 11 10 -1
Swift 4 3 -1
Todd 79 79 0
Traverse 78 71 -7
Wabasha 63 60 -3
Wadena 13 16 3
Waseca 45 42 -3
Washington 12 12 0
Watonwan 60 58 -2
Wilkin 44 34 -10
Winona 24 24 0
Wright 32 33 1
Yellow Medicine 85 78 -7

Venture Forward: socioeconomic factors impact venture growth, venture growth impacts community prosperity

Last month, Go Daddy released Venture Forward, a report on the impact of local ventures on a community and impact of community on local ventures. It looks at how different socioeconomic factors affect venture growth and compare city rankings across our database of 900+ U.S. city regions. Here’s a description of the report from Daily Yonder

A new dataset from GoDaddy (a large retailer of website domain names and hosting services) provides some new insight into this topic.  The data focuses on “ventures” which are defined as individual domain names with an active website.  Using data from over 20 million websites, GoDaddy has developed an intriguing measure of broadband use by assessing how many ventures exist per 100 people.  GoDaddy estimates that about 75% of the active websites are business-oriented (as opposed to nonprofit or personal sites).

Here is the map from the Daily Yonder site that caught my attention – it highlights venture density in non-metrocounties – the darker the color, the greater the venture density…

You can see the diversity in venture density with a nod to cook for higher percentage! (For something really good you can check out the growth of ventures in an intereactive map on Go Daddy, track May 2018 to Dec 2019. Check out your county especially if you know there’s been a change in broadband access or other factors in your area!)

So what does is mean for a community to have a greater density or more active ventures?

  • Each new venture per 100 people increases the predicted prosperity of a county by an average of 0.4 pts; or 1.4 pts if the venture is highly-active
  • On average, counties with 2.5 or more ventures per 100 people saw a net gain in economic prosperity since the Great Recession of 2008.
  • Adding one highly active venture per 100 people in a county increases median income by $331 on average or over 19%

Go Daddy makes this info available at the county-level. I have also looked at Minnesota counties and the report – for another post.

Get a nice high level look on why this is valuable:

(In the spirit of full disclosure I host a few dozens websites with GO Daddy and have for 20 years.)

Lack of broadband adds to rural vulnerability to COVID-19

Alexandria Echo Press reports that COVID-19 was slower to come to rural counties, but it’s catching up at a faster rate…

For two weeks ending April 27, rural counties saw a 125% increase in coronavirus cases (from 51 to 115 cases per 100,000 people) and a 169% increase in deaths (from 1.6 to 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people), according to that study.

During that same time period, metro counties saw a 68% increase in cases (from 195 cases per 100,000 people to 328) and a 113% increase in deaths (from 8.0 deaths per 100,000 people to 17.0).

Lack of broadband is a contributing factor…

Coronavirus is poised to hammer the rural health care system, which Henning-Smith said was stressed long before the coronavirus appeared. Since 2010, 128 rural hospitals have closed, eight of them in 2020 alone, while the virus has set many of them teetering on the edge of collapse, Henning-Smith said.

Rural health care systems also face a major shortage of healthcare workers, she said, while people living in rural areas tend to be older, with more underlying health concerns and disability, and less likely to have health insurance than their urban counterparts. Rural residents also are more likely to have less access to broadband internet, finding it difficult to work from home or order groceries online, and also be unemployed.

“Altogether, this puts rural residents at higher risk of COVID-19,” she said.

Teachers without broadband are working all hours in odd places

Last week I wrote about the teacher in Spring Valley MN, who does her work at 1am, because that’s when the Internet works for her. Then she wakes up her second grade daughter at 5am to do her work . Not only is that crazy for them – it means the teacher cannot communicate effectively with her students during the school day and the daughter can’t communicate with her teachers. The idea of streamed classes is impossible for them – and therefore likely for the whole class and indeed school.

CNN tells a similar story that I’ll share below. Now is a good time to share these stories because there’s a fix for this problem. As a country, as an industry we know how to expand and improve broadband. I remember talking to Governor Walz at an event related to homelessness. We spoke briefly about broadband and he said – now that’s one we can win. Homelessness is more difficult. Technology alone won’t solve it. It’s the same with COVID-19. We don’t know how to win that one yet. The recommendations are far-reaching, which could indicate that we’re gong to be here a while.

So why not fix one big problem ? Fix broadband. It will take a big check but we can do it. And once we do – these teachers can teach, students can learn, more and more people can work from home. More and more people can watch Netflix from home, which is turns out is the ironically named killer app. So with that in mind, here’s another story from CNN

Every Sunday since the coronavirus lockdown started, Stephanie Anstey drives 20 minutes from her home in Grottoes, Virginia, to sit in her school’s near-empty parking lot and type away on her laptop.

Anstey, a middle school history teacher, lives in a valley between two mountains, where the only available home internet option is a satellite connection. Her emails can take 30 seconds to load, only to quit mid-message. She can’t even open files on Google Drive, let alone upload lesson modules or get on a Zoom call with colleagues.

“You just have to plan,” Anstey said. “It’s not a Monday through Friday job anymore.”

So Anstey’s new office is in her car in the corner of the parking lot where the WiFi signal is strongest. She comes here when she needs to upload instructional videos, answer emails from students and parents or participate in the occasional video conferencing call. It’s not ideal, she says, but using her slow internet at home is even more frustrating.

Anstey’s predicament casts a new light on a longstanding digital divide that is being made even starker by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonprofits in rural areas suffer during coronavirus quarantine

Duluth News Tribune report on the impact of the coronavirus quarantine on nonprofits…

Kate Barr is the president of Propel Nonprofits, which serves organizations in Minnesota and surrounding states. She described this past month like weathering a storm.

“There’s a shared experience of this kind of fast-paced change; it’s just like standing on a beach and waves are hitting and hitting and hitting. And so leaders of nonprofits are frankly having to react to those waves as they hit,” she said.

Recognizing that it’s even tougher on nonprofits in rural Minnesota…

Barr pointed out that nonprofits in rural areas often face additional technological and communications challenges in serving clients spread over a large geographic area.

While fundraising events are canceled, Barr said the need for some nonprofits’ services are increasing. Food shelves remain open and busy. Mental health and counseling services have shifted to telehealth, which cuts down on travel in rural areas but requires reliable home broadband access.

As for museums and groups focused on the arts and education, some have gone dark for now, or have postponed their season openings. Many have gone digital as they try to chart a new course.

The article offers no solutions, just a hint of hope…

“The people that we work with in the arts world, they’re the creatives — and if anybody can come up with ways to adapt (it’s them). I have great faith that they’re going to respond.”