The Wi-Fi on the bus goes…click, click, click!

Photo courtesy of Osakis Review

For Milaca students who ride the bus, “hitting the highway” now has a dual meaning. As the wheels on the bus go round-and-round on the highway pavement, tech wheels are turning too as they connect to the information highway.

Five, ten, fifteen years ago, if you attempted to do homework on the bus it would most likely come out looking like one long EKG line, mimicking all the bumps and dips in the road. Now, rural schools like Milaca are hooking up buses with Wi-Fi so students can make the most of the lengthy travels to and from school, which can be up to 36 miles round trip.

For Milaca Public Schools Technology Coordinator Steve Bistrup, the idea to connect buses to the Internet followed naturally after the school voted to offer tablet devices to move more instruction and homework online.

“When we moved forward with the 1-to-1 iPad initiative in 2012, I had to look at what was needed to make it a success,” said Bistrup. “An obvious starting point was our community’s broadband infrastructure. We needed to make sure students had the connectivity to do what we were asking of them.”
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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 27 – May 1)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions.

  1. Cuyuna Lakes: In a presentation to the Aitkin Chamber of Commerce, two members from Cuyuna Lakes Trails Association provided a historical overview of community work around the local trails system and pointed to the future potential. “Cuyuna Lakes Trail could be a revenue-generating machine,” said Association member Aaron Hautala. “Trails are not a conduit from point A to point B. It’s the experience in between.” Full story at Aitkin Age
  2. Lucan: Brewing some of the wackiest, tastiest barley beverages out there, Dustin Brau, owner of Brau Brothers Brewing Company, is the epitome of a rural innovator.  In his hometown of Lucan, population 220, Brau grew a small restaurant into a booming brew business. When asked why he chose to stay in his small town, he says,”We never seriously considered doing it anywhere else. Being rural was — and is — part of our identity.” Full story at The Growler
  3. Nobles County: Bankers, construction professionals, construction suppliers and elected officials gathered in Worthington this week to talk housing. Taking effect in the spring of 2014, the NHI Housing Construction Tax Abatement Program was created to “to encourage individual home builders as well as developers of new single-family, multi-family and rental homes to build in Nobles County.” Nobles County is not the only rural area dealing with housing shortages, but communities are coming together in creative ways to build bright futures. Full story at the Worthington Daily Globe

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Cuyuna Lakes Trail - Copyright Aaron Hautala

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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 20-24)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions.
  1. Gaylord: Minnesota could be getting a new medical school thanks to a chance encounter while looking for broadband funding.”There are a lot of things Gaylord has done over the last 15 years to improve the community. It’s nice to have affirmation from someone not in Minnesota who sees the values and community feeling we have that you can do business and live a life in rural Minnesota.” More in the Mankato Free Press
  2. Mille Lacs: Businesses and organizations came together at the beginning of the month for the first-ever Mille Lacs Job Fair. “The whole event started from a request from local employers indicating that they needed employees.” More in the Mille Lacs Messenger.
  3. Tower: Progress has been made to reopen a harbor connecting boaters on Lake Vermilion to downtown Tower. Vibrancy is on the horizon!  “There’s a few people who have been watching what’s been going on. We’re going to make things happen.” More in the Star Tribune

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Is wireless the answer for rural Minnesota?

“Broadband access — and the skills to use it — are fundamental to healthy, resilient communities… It deserves more than a one-off response.” — Dr. Kathy Annette, Star Tribune, April 20, 2015

On Monday we added our voice to the chorus of rural Minnesota voices rallying in response to the House’s decision to zero out all broadband funding. In a Star Tribune editorial, our president Kathy Annette said that opportunity should not be limited by zip code.

Part of the opportunity for rural is tied up in the question: Is wireless broadband the answer to rural Minnesota’s broadband barriers?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve listened to what our rural partners are saying about wireless and what we’re hearing is that wireless cannot be the only answer.

In a Blandin on Broadband post, Janet Keough, a representative of Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative, says, “Wireless internet is not the medium or long-term answer to connecting our rural citizens and businesses to the internet…wireless is only a short-term incremental solution to helping people get a ‘taste’ of what the internet can do.”

Marc Johnson, Director of East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative, posted a letter he wrote to the House saying, “We have wireless providers in our area including fixed wireless, cellular and satellite. In ALL cases the costs to consumers are significantly higher than wired (copper or fiber) services due to high equipment costs, data caps and generally high monthly fees.”

Blandin on Broadband blogger Ann Tracey expounded on Johnson’s letter, featuring five reasons why wireless broadband is necessary but not sufficient.

In short:

  1. You need wired to support wireless
  2. Distance matters so rural areas will still be difficult to serve.
  3. Weather and trees matter
  4. Current wireless options available to users are more expensive
  5. A move to support wireless-only will increase the digital divide.

When the FCC redefined what counts as adequate broadband earlier this year, Chairman Tom Wheeler concluded that wireless isn’t an equally viable option — yet.

“We have great hopes for wireless as a potential substitute for fixed broadband connections. But today it seems clear that mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband, especially given mobile pricing levels and limited data allowances…Once fiber is in place, its beauty is that throughput increases are largely a matter of upgrading the electronics at both ends, something that costs much less than laying new connections. While LTE and LTE-A offer new potential, consumers have yet to see how these technologies will be used to offer fixed wireless service.”

On the national stage, wireless has been called out as an inadequate substitution for fixed connections, so is it the only answer for rural Minnesota? We will keep following the conversations happening in rural and in the legislature to bring you the answers.






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Freeborn County’s Lift One; Lift All teams up for Homeless Day on the Hill

Today we welcome Amy Gauthier, member of Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty – a group born out of our Leaders Partnering to End Poverty program. Lift One; Lift All members traveled to Homeless Day on the Hill last month to push legislation to benefit the homeless in their county. This is Amy’s experience.

Representatives from Lift One; Lift All show their strength in front of the Capitol

March 12th 7:30 a.m., six very motivated women piled into a vehicle and head north. To the Capitol or bust! We were armed with coffee and conversation. We had no real plan on what we were going say or how we were going to say it. We had half a handle on the issues being presented at the Capitol and how they pertained to our very special piece of Minnesota. We just knew we were going and we were motivated to make a difference!


“We” are Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty, a group focused on building leadership capacity to increase opportunities for people to move out of poverty in Freeborn County.  Last month, we headed to Homeless Day on the Hill to ask our legislative leaders for their support of new homeless legislation. Little did we know, we were also on a leadership journey to strengthen our relationships and explore new ways to further our work.

Together, we made something beautiful happen.
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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 6 – 10)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions. If you have a vibrant story to share, email

  1. Crookston: It’s 1981 – Charles and Diana marry, the original 5150 IBM PC launches, Raiders of the Lost Ark dominates the box office AND Crookston, Minnesota’s Comprehensive Plan was born. After 34 years as a dust collector, the city is getting serious about building a new plan for a vibrant future in Crookston. The city plans to engage community during the planning process. “An updated plan would be a great asset to have for economic development, and may help the city realign our current land use to fit the needs of today’s market and economy,” said Building Official Matt Johnson in a Crookston Times article.
  2. Grand Rapids: It’s 1981, again! This time the Myles Reif Center opens their doors for the first time. This week, however, Reif Center celebrated the closing of its doors and the groundbreaking that kick started their $8.1 million expansion. With oodles of Reif supporters present, the event was marked with song, dance and performance. Here’s what attendees had to say…
  3. Morris: In ten short years, the Latino population increased 274% in Stevens County. As cultures coverage a “silence of misunderstanding” often blankets incoming immigrants. To chip away at these barriers, University of Minnesota Morris students Jordan Wente and Natalie Hoidal embarked on a project to visually transcend differences through photography. Check it out!

Reif groundbreaking

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Meet Nichole – Highly motivated and hands-on

Nichole Uzelac likes hands-on classes, like horticulture and small engines. She hopes to be a diesel mechanic, and Blandin Foundation stands ready to help with Education Grants. Applications for 2015-2016 grants are due May 1.

Nichole Uzelac only has a few weeks of high school left. Her clear vision for life after high school, paired with hands-on experience she gained in classes at Grand Rapids High School, has her future plans – to become a diesel mechanic – humming.

That’s right. Diesel mechanic.

What drew this articulate, highly motivated and focused young woman to a nontraditional line of work? Pace and variety of work, the chance to solve problems and address challenges, income potential – and the possibility of getting a job that will allow her to stay in the Itasca area.

“I want to become a successful diesel mechanic. I want to buy a bit of land around here, and have my horses and dogs,” she said. “Nothing too complicated.”

Her interest in mechanics started small – in the small engines course she took her junior year.
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Bemijigamaag Powwow draws a vibrant mix of community

A catalyst for learning. An opportunity to give voice to a seldom-heard community group. A chance to follow a community conversation, aligning energy and resources toward a goal in which numerous partners could see themselves and their roles.

As with much of Northern Community Radio’s (NCR) work, the Bemijigamaag Powwow, held this past weekend at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, exemplified the organization’s ability to connect across many community lines.

NCR, an independent, nonprofit organization that operates two community-based public radio stations in northern Minnesota, tapped existing interests to forge a strong collaboration between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa, Red Lake Band of Objibwa and White Earth Ojibwa Nation, community members and government officials to make a difference in the community’s perception of Ojibwe culture.

“[The powwow is] part of the healing that’s needed in that community. We had a sense that this needs to happen, that this is the right event at the right time,” said Northern Community Radio’s general manager Maggie Montgomery.

Attending the event, Blandin Foundation president, and White Earth Band member, Kathy Annette said, “It was wonderful to see the people of Red lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, Bemidji and surrounding communities to come together to share this cultural experience. It was a good day!”

For vibrant images and NCR’s recording of the event, visit Northern Community Radio’s website.

Photo Credit: Northern Community Radio


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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (March 30 – April 3)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions. If you have a vibrant story to share, email
  1. Bemidji: This Saturday, the City of Bemidji, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa, Red Lake Band of Ojibwa and White Earth Ojibwa Nation are hosting the Bemijigamaag Powwow at Bemidji’s Sanford Center. This is the first-ever “large cross-cultural, multi-media” powwow held in Bemidji and it “seeks to bridge gaps and build a better sense of community among the native and non-native people.” To learn how local leaders came together to move this idea forward, visit Minnesota Brown and stay tuned to Outposts from more stories coming out of the Powwow.
  2. La Crescent: If you happen to find yourself rolling through La Crescent next Saturday, you might just have the opportunity to roll down your window and meet a local. Why? Because it will be Neighbors Day, a now “decade’s-old tradition where people of every age come together in a collective and very visible way to help each other out.” Led in part by a former Blandin Community Leadership alumni Peter Petersilie, the day-long event involves everyone from “service organizations, youth groups, high school students, sports teams, clubs, and even whole families.” For the full article, see Houston County News.
  3. Mora: Maple syrup, a Minnesota staple! If you’ve never tapped a tree, you’re in for a treat. Life in Minnesota gives a fantastic glimpse into Sapsucker Farms, a family farm in Mora, Minnesota that grew from 35 taps to 1,000 taps in ten years. Visit Life in Minnesota’s website for a vibrant story and even more brilliant photos.

Mora, Minnesota family taps maple trees. Photo credit: Life in Minnesota


Red Wing rallies all voices to change community story

Members of Red Wing ACE gather to discuss community branding work

You need to go slow to go fast. This mantra reverberates off Ethan Seaberg’s lips as he recounts the genesis story (as he calls it) of Red Wing’s community branding work.

He heard the phrase while attending Blandin Foundation’s Academy of Community Engagement (ACE) in 2014 and it stuck. The ACE program built on Ethan’s previous Blandin leadership training by bringing together a group of established leaders in his community to strengthen relationships and deepen their work on an existing economic development issue.

For Red Wing, it was their re-entry into an important conversation that started in 2008 about how the community is positioning themselves for the future.
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