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Area broadband projects held up as example at statewide conference

Resilient Region leaders joined more than 150 broadband leaders from across rural Minnesota last month to compare approaches to expanding access to, and use of, high-speed internet.

Attending were Maureen Ideker of Essentia Health, Joe Buttweiler of Consolidated Telecommunications Co. and Dawn Espe and Cheryal Hills of the Region Five Development Commission.

The "Border to Border Broadband: Bridging the Gaps—Expanding the Impact" conference, co-hosted by Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, highlighted the many ways broadband is creating new opportunities for rural communities.

Research unveiled at the conference found that, combined, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties could see more than $78.6 million in economic benefits over 15 years if broadband access and use improved. Tech expert Robert Gallardo, assistant director at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, produced profiles of all Minnesota counties using his Digital Divide Index.

As leaders in rural broadband work, work occurring in the Resilient Region was central to the conference sharing and learning. A past Blandin Broadband Community, Resilient Region leaders have invested in projects such as video conferencing equipment at the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. offices; tele-health training through the Essentia Health Foundation; a technology expo in Wadena; and mobile devices for early childhood programs in Brainerd Public Schools.

Communities are starting to see the direct economic impact of broadband investments like those in the Resilient Region, a news release stated. Blandin Foundation-commissioned research released at the conference analyzed these impacts in five rural Minnesota communities, including Crow Wing County.

Findings indicate that economic benefits in each community will surpass public broadband investment in one to six years. Information and resources on how these counties are making the most of their broadband investments can be found at www.mnbroadbandcasestudies.org.

All the conference proceedings, including the county-by-county Digital Divide Index for Minnesota, are online at www.blandinonbroadband.org.

"The Resilient Region has a lot to be proud of," said Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO of Blandin Foundation, in the release. "Local leaders are creating a broadband-enhanced future themselves when others wouldn't do it for them. Their vision will propel the community forward."

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