With the right investments in technology, rural communities could use this moment to remake their futures. One small town shows how.
Signs direct visitors to Mitchell, S.D., for hundreds of miles around. The town, which is a bit more than an hour west of Sioux Falls along Interstate 90, is home to the Corn Palace, a classic roadside attraction that in a non-pandemic year attracts about a half-million visitors. Enticed by the endless string of billboards, weary travelers pull off the interstate to take a look at the palace’s onion-shaped domes and corn-colored murals depicting bison, Mount Rushmore and George McGovern, the late senator and long-ago presidential candidate who was a native son of Mitchell.Read more
Mitchell Technical College and Lake Area Technical College in Watertown are going to be beneficiaries of more than $4 billion of giving from philanthropist and novelist MacKenzie Scott, it was announced Wednesday.
The amount of the gift for the colleges was not stated in the announcement. Scott, who is deemed the richest woman in the world with a net worth of more than $60 billion, has committed $4.15 billion in philanthropy, much of it directed toward supporting those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.Read more
Like rural cities around the world, Mitchell has been shaped by the productivity revolution in agriculture. Over the past 80 years, automation has transformed farming from a labor-intensive business to a capital-intensive one employing a tiny percentage of the workforce. The six counties surrounding Mitchell have lost one-third of their population since 1930. The most talented and ambitious are inevitably the first to go.
Vision 2000 and Mitchell Technical Institute
Mitchell began to plan a different future in the late 1980s. A strategic plan called Vision 2000 called for a community-wide emphasis on education, healthcare, infrastructure and recreation. It led to the merger of two hospitals, creating a unified healthcare system that became the city’s biggest employer, and the construction of new schools that partnered with the local university and recreation center to advance educational excellence. Investments in city infrastructure were funded by an increase in the local sales tax.
It was during this period that the local community college, the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), began to assume a unique leadership role. MTI and a consulting company, Martin and Associates, developed a plan to create a municipal telephone company to bring advanced services to the city. Put to a vote, the plan was defeated due to concerns about cost fed by the opposition of incumbent providers. But MTI was undeterred. It developed a technology center to serve students and the community, which soon became a collocation facility for communications providers. Through a Federal grant, MTI upgraded it into a Network Operations Center meeting strict industry and government security standards, and the NOC began to host more and more networks including university connections to Internet II. This evidence of demand persuaded regional carriers to expand broadband service, culminating in a 2005 decision by Santel Communications to build a fiber-to-the-premise network.
Investing in the Next Generation
Telecommunications development has created another economy on top of Mitchell’s agricultural one. It consists of engineering, consulting and software companies that have made Mitchell into a regional hub for expertise and services. The city and its institutions have responded by deepening their support for the digital economy. The school system has introduced a 1-to-1 laptop and tablet program for middle and secondary school students, and is piloting mass customized learning.
MTI has invested $40 million in a new technology-based campus, where it trains hundreds of communications and data technicians, while Dakota Wesleyan University has created centers for entrepreneurship and health sciences. A local angel investors network has sprung up and begun incubating new communications startups. So successful has the new economy become that it is attracting new office industries including healthcare support companies Alleviant and Avera Health Systems. Mitchell is responding by partnering with recruitment companies to attract talent from across America to the city. Rather than seeing its population decline, Mitchell has become a Midwest magnet for ICT talent.
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Mitchell was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Smart21 2013 | 2014 | 2015
The best part of this Intelligent Community “thing” for me is to see the patterns of the new energized community emerging. To do it, you have to learn to connect dots. After all, “Creativity,” as Steve Jobs said, “is just connecting the dots.”
The dots were linked again for me this past weekend in the Oceania galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum and in Mitchell, South Dakota. One of the happiest days of my life was nearly 35 years ago when I first became a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It made me feel as if I had totally joined the City of New York. All of it. I now had the privilege of walking into that majestic building on Fifth Avenue and roaming the world as I pleased, as my heart and mind dictated. I could be curious and learn endlessly (my idea of heaven). It was a thrill and, looking back, it was the deliverance of “quality of life” that Manhattan had always promised. This feeling has continued to make all the difference about whether I live here or somewhere else.Read more
The best thermometer of how the world views the 2015 finalists for the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year designation is best found in the press coverage. This year the lesson is that dark horses have reached for the top. Forbes noted that the Top7 “are not the cities you think of immediately” as tech powerhouses. The UK’s Independent said as much and concluded by saying that we can learn from them. Noting the population differences the Independent referred to Mitchell, SD (pop 15,000) as the “minnow” of the group. The South Dakota community, in the mind of the press, is swimming upstream in its quest for further glory in Toronto in June when we will announce the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.Read more
New York, New York – January 22, 2015 - The Intelligent Community Forum announced the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 earlier today in an online event hosted by Finland’s former Minister of Communications, Suvi Linden. The Top7 list included cities and towns from 5 different nations, three communities from the United States, one from Australia, one from Brazil, one from Canada, and one from Taiwan.Read more
Mitchell, a city of 15,000 on the plains of South Dakota, where it is the center of a region that has lost 30% of its population over the past 70 years. But Mitchell has carved out a sharply different destiny. With a willing private communications company and a Federal broadband stimulus grant, Mitchell has developed a fiber-to-the-premise network serving every business and residence. Its university and technical school have leveraged the city’s agricultural heritage into academic leadership in precision agriculture, in which farmers use satellite and remote sensing data to develop a highly detailed portrait of their land and apply that knowledge to boost yields.Read more