Periodically we will present commentaries on topics of interest to community and economic developers across rural Minnesota. Below is a list of all commentaries with the most recent listed first.
The Power of Collaboration
I entered the Minneapolis Convention Center with a mixture of curiosity and excitement. The occasion was the 2012 Tekne Awards; the Minnesota High Tech Association's version of the Academy Awards for technology entrepreneurs and innovators. And as I entered the Convention Center I was handed a badge and steered toward a reception area upstairs designated for the award finalists. In the ballroom below were approximately 1,000 guests in a festive mood from all across Minnesota's high tech industry. I knew this was going to be a fun evening.
As I climbed the stairs to reach the reception area I noticed everyone shared the same badge as me with the word "Finalist" on it. Slowly as my eyes focused I began to see friends and colleagues I have either known or have gotten to know over the past two years. For you see, in 2010 the Blandin Foundation was awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration to coordinate a large, statewide initiative designed to promote broadband adoption all across rural Minnesota. Known as the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) project, this unique initiative brought together more than 20 different organizations, institutions, agencies and rural communities to focus their efforts on increasing broadband adoption among Minnesota's rural residents, as well as rural businesses. And it was this initiative, spearheaded by the Blandin Foundation that was a finalist for the 2012 Tekne Award in the category of "Innovative Collaboration." As a broadband researcher for many years the Blandin Foundation tapped me back in 2010 to serve as the project's evaluator over the next two years. In other words it was my job to document all the activity by this large group of partners all across the state and at the end of the 2-year effort to examine the impact and consequences of their work.
To state that the scope of the project was comprehensive is an understatement, as the project strategically targeted key groups of non-adopters. For those low-income rural residents who couldn't afford a computer, our partner PC's of People secured, refurbished and distributed over 2,000 computers to needy rural families. The average annual household income among those receiving these computers was $12,145, with over 35 percent having an unemployed head of household. After all, for many Minnesota businesses today you can't even apply for a job without being able to submit your application online. And if you are thinking, about the unmet computer literacy and training needs of many rural residents, our partners at DEED, U of M Extension, MnSCU and the Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace delivered more than 31,000 hours of training and technical assistance, both online and across rural Minnesota.
More than 2,000 rural businesses were provided training; over 6,000 rural businesses were reached; and direct technical assistance was provided to more than 60 small rural businesses by our partner at the U of M Extension. Over the two years U of M Extension not only provided this important technical assistance, but with more than 60 percent of all major purchases beginning with a web-search today, they helped rural businesses understand the importance of managing their "digital tele-presence" in today's economy. This was all bolstered by the efforts of the nine rural Regional Development Commissions providing outreach and media information all across their respective rural regions. As I noted, this was a remarkable coordinated effort with a broad scope across an even broader geography we call Greater Minnesota.
And what was the consequence of all of this time and effort? Well beginning with over 4,000 baseline surveys conducted back in 2010, we have tracked the growth in broadband subscriptions from quarter-to-quarter, regularly reporting our progress to the National Telecommunications Information Administration each quarter. With a goal of achieving 38,000 new broadband subscriptions across rural Minnesota within the 2-year period, the current count now stands at 40,496.
So it was with a good measure of accomplishment and excitement that we gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center that evening. For two years I had the opportunity to document an extraordinary effort of coordination and collaboration across multiple organizations, universities and state agencies. And now with the project winding down at the end of 2012, here we were to celebrate our collective efforts. So it was with great satisfaction as we watched former WCCO news anchor Don Shelby take to the podium and announce that the Blandin Foundation's Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community project was the winner of the 2012 Tekne Award for Innovative Collaboration. A great collaboration indeed.
Geller is professor & head of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. He also serves as the director of the federally-funded EDA Center at UMC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org