Partners in Progress
Final report of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities Program
Publication of this report marks the completion of a two-year collaboration between the Intelligent Community Forum and the Blandin Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to creating vibrant rural communities in the state of Minnesota. For the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project, Robert Bell, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), compiled key data on the five key indicators that the ICF knows are crucial to success. Bell’s analysis showed the 11 test communities made substantial progress, on average scores improved by 9.49%.
A separate survey revealed that broadband penetration rose almost 15 percent faster than the rest of rural Minnesota during the study period. As a result more than 250,000 rural Minnesotans were introduced to online resources to find jobs, continue their education and monitor their health.
The MIRC project was a $4.8 million grant, provided by the US Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and administered by the Blandin Foundation, aiming to drive broadband adoption and use in greater Minnesota using the Intelligent Community economic development framework.
The project sought to create technologically and economically vital rural communities able to compete and thrive in a global economy driven by information and communications technology. The Demonstration Communities selected to receive the grants were a cross‐section of cities, towns, counties and multi‐county regions, with a total population of 250,000 people and population density ranging from 1,700 to 4 people per square mile.
“Rural towns, cities and counties stand at the threshold of the broadband economy,” said Bell, who worked with the communities to evaluate their broadband readiness and performance. “They already have the sense of place their residents treasure. Through broadband services, they have the chance to add the richness and complexity of life that their urban neighbors have long enjoyed.”
Intelligent Community Indicators
The five indicators are, broadband service, training workers in digital skills, inclusion of everyone in the community, support for innovation and marketing the community to the rest of the world. Bell says the study enabled the ICF to modify their indicators for rural communities so they can focus on attainable goals and measure improvement. Data from the MIRC project also integrates with the ICF’s new Rural Initiative where the ICF will devote effort to create model strategies and programs that use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to meet the challenges unique to rural communities, “In the broadband economy of the 21st century – when ICT is doing so much to eliminate distance as a barrier – rural areas have opportunities never seen before in history. The opportunity is to plug into the world at low cost regardless of location. To make rural areas as vital and exciting a place to grow a business or build a career as the busiest city centers,” says Bell.
More on the MIRC Project
The MIRC project leveraged resources of coalition partners to extend small business technical assistance and training, expand hours for access to workforce centers, distribute refurbished computers to low-income families, train individuals and businesses and create courses for knowledge workers.
The MIRC identified areas where improvements were needed, provided advice on actions to implement and tracked results. Project organizers believe the MIRC was clearly a factor in Minnesota’s ability to maintain its place as a leader in rural broadband adoption and use. Broadband adoption, as measured by broadband subscriptions, increased from 64 percent to 70.6 percent in rural Minnesota during the MIRC project. In the demonstration communities, adoption jumped from 61.7 percent to 68.8 percent -- close to 15 percent faster than the rest of rural Minnesota.
“The communities that experienced the fastest growth reported higher percentages of awareness and participation in MIRC activities, overall intervention works,” said Dr. Jack Geller of The EDA Center at the University of Minnesota – Crookston and lead MIRC researcher. “It’s hard not to connect the MIRC project as a contributor to Minnesota’s leading position in rural broadband adoption.”
The 11 rural “MIRC demonstration communities” each received $100,000 to identify and implement nearly 100 projects that fit local broadband needs such as:
- Boreal.TV in Grand Marais, a new local-access online video site that connects residents of and visitors to this far-flung northeastern Minnesota community with local activities from government meetings to local sports events.
- Lac qui Parle County in far west-central Minnesota created the Computer Commuter -- a mobile computer lab using a retooled hotel shuttle bus that brings free broadband access to communities in one of Minnesota’s most sparsely populated regions.
- The University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality (CV) conducted training for more than 2,400 small rural Minnesota businesses on how to use high-speed Internet for marketing, sales and operations...
“Blandin Foundation is all about Minnesotans imagining, leading and growing vibrant, resilient, rural communities,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, CEO of Blandin Foundation. “Though rural broadband faces challenges, local leaders are making inroads. ‘Plugging in’ to broadband allows the small businesses, government entities and to fully engage in the new global economy.”
“The MIRC report provides a valuable guidebook to help any community get started on seizing their own destiny,” said Bell.
This report is based on detailed analysis of data provided by the Demonstration Communities as well as community stories assembled by the Blandin Foundation team. Click here for the report.
This report is part of The Intelligent Community Forum's Rural Imperative Initiative. ICF believes strongly that information and communications technology, properly applied, holds the key to sustainable prosperity for rural communities, and we have launched an active search for model strategies and programs that use it to attack the challenges unique to rural communities.
For more information on The Rural Imperative, visit www.ruralimperative.com.