Sustaining rural Minnesota by connecting to the information economy

Aaron Klemz of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness makes an eloquent case for an alternative to dependence on resource extraction in the Northwoods. This is an excerpt of the full piece, which you can read on MinnPost:

In their paper “The Rural Growth Trifecta: Outdoor Amenities, Creative Class and Entrepreneurial Context,” economists David McGranahan, Timothy Wojan and Dayton Lambert lay out a “rural variant” of the creative class theory. They argue that outdoor recreation amenities are crucial in attracting talent to rural areas, and that “high amenity” areas can experience “business formation and economic growth, facilitated in part by the attraction of more creative class members.”

In rural Minnesota, retaining and attracting creatives is one of the most pressing issues for economic development. For too long, leaving for large cities has been the only way for young people in small towns to build careers in the information economy. Unless this brain drain is stopped and reversed, it will be impossible to build vital communities in Greater Minnesota.

Access to wilderness, natural landscapes, and outdoor recreation cannot attract entrepreneurs alone. The key enabling asset is broadband internet access, which is a prerequisite for telecommuting and essential for information-based businesses. Unfortunately, the alignment between broadband access and outdoor amenities is lacking. According to ConnectMN, wide swaths of the Arrowhead region lack reliable access, and the blufflands of Southeastern Minnesota are underserved by broadband.

Fortunately, an expansion of broadband to Lake County and parts of St. Louis County through a federal stimulus grant will soon bring high-speed fiber to the communities best positioned to use their proximity to outdoor amenities like the Boundary Waters Wilderness to drive economic development. Ely, Winton, Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt are all slated to get broadband access in 2014.