Connected communities need broadband for future growth

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Guttenberg community members attended the Alpine Communications Connected Communities Summit on Thursday, Oct. 10, at Johnson's Reception Hall in Elkader. Front from left are Clayton County Supervisor Sharon Keehner, Jackie Lee, City Manager Denise Schneider, Jamie Blume, and Mandy Ludovissy; back row, Andy Reimer, Russell Loven, Austin Coon, Mayor Bill Frommelt, and Deb Preston. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

A large crowd of enthusiastic  community leaders from Elkader, Elgin, Garnavillo, Guttenberg, Marquette, and McGregor gathered for the Alpine Communications' Connected Communities Summit at Johnson's Reception Hall on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

The above communities have received the designation of being Smart Rural Communities by The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) — The Rural Broadband Association. Alpine Communications, as your Smart Rural Communities provider, has been recognized for its essential work in bringing broadband-enabled advancement to rural America. 

The Smart Rural Communities program promotes collaboration among rural broadband providers and local leaders in the development of broadband-enabled solutions for economic development,  healthcare, education, telecommuting and quality of life.   

Alpine Communications general manager Chris Hopp welcomed the crowd and introduced the summit's first speaker. 

Ron Kresha

Ron Kresha, co-founder of the Golden Shovel Agency, the leading economic development communication firm in the nation, introduced himself to the audience. Kresha, who also holds a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, quickly got down to business. 

Kresha explained, "I believe there is a real insurgence coming. We have millennials that are looking to relocate to smaller communities for better quality of life. Many of them may have grown up in rural communities. They educated themselves and have been employed in larger cities. The cost of living and lack of meaningful social connections has caused them to rethink their lifestyles." 

Kresha described these millennials as "edge" workers. They are smart, well-educated and looking for solutions.  "When two ecosystems come together in nature, on that 'edge' is where you start to see growth. In comparison where rural communities meet up with larger cities, you have growth. We need to look at these 'edge' workers, how they migrate and what kind of opportunities can rural Iowa offer them," he said.  "Millennials are moving away from the high cost of living in larger cities, looking for low-cost housing, inexpensive daycare, volunteer opportunities and most importantly high quality internet connections."

Kresh told the audience, "Millennials are highly dependent on good broadband services. They manage their lives from their cellphone. They fill out college applications, apply for jobs, seek out housing and job opportunities and socialize online on their phones. This is not our parents' generation, and like it or not it's here to stay."  

Kresh had several recommendations for community leaders on ways to attract this new generation of skilled workers and entrepreneurs. He advised, "Rural communities need to change their presence on the internet. Your parades and festivals are wonderful additions to your community, but if you are looking for a job or affordable housing, nobody cares about your annual apple festival." 

"Technology, job opportunities, housing, access to high quality healthcare facilities, schools and daycares are among the most important assets your  community has to someone who is considering relocation," he shared. 

Kresh offered some eye-opening advice to employers. "Seventy-nine percent of employees are searching for work while they are working for you. They know more about your company than you know about them. The modern workforce feels we should be lucky they are working for us. They are not interested in jumping through hoops. If they can't get to you on their iPhone they are never going to find you." 

"Millennials are very committed to the environment and are impressed with any efforts you take toward the cause. If they believe in your company's vision they will stay loyal to you. First things first — list the job details, salary range and company overview. Keep it simple," he stressed. 

Five Key Points

Kresha listed five key points for audiance members to consider.

* Broadband connectivity 

* Activism 

* Opportunity 

* Flexibility 

* Security 

He concluded, "Communities and employers need to showcase their assets online. Make sure you list your broadband connectivity on your website. It is their oxygen. Activism is very important to them. I can't stress this enough. They want an opportunity to pay off their bills and student loans.  List affordable housing and employment opportunities with short commutes to lower their carbon footprints. They want flexibility, they do not want to be tied down."

Panel discussion

Following Kresha's informative presentation, two panel discussions were held. 

Bill Menner, founder of the Bill Menner Group, a consulting firm focused on community development, rural partnerships, and economic vitality, led the discussion. 

The first panel consisted of Jackie Lee, Director of Aggregate Marketing and Sales for Pattison Sand Company; Adam Pollock, award-winning lighting designer and founder of Fire Farm; Ketaki Poyekar Hauber, website designer, consultant and founder of Studio K8Ki, and Brent Grinna, founder of EverTrue via Zoom from his office in Boston. Each of the representatives equally expressed their appreciation and dependence on Alpine's broadband services and shared their business success stories. 

Following a short break a second panel of experts took the stage with moderator Ron Kresha at the podium. Jeff Kolb, Economic Developer for Butler and Grundy County; Bill Menner; Dave Duncan, CEO of the Iowa Communications Alliance, and Mark Reinig, CIRAS Economic Development Program Manager, shared their expertise in working with legislation to promote the importance of connectivity in rural Iowa. 

The group encouraged the audience to discuss and share what they learned at the summit meeting with other members of their community. Listing Tele-commuting, Tele-health and Tele-education as key components to successful communities. They collectively agreed, “The biggest threat to Iowa’s rural communities is the resistance to change. Those resistant to change are dying. Communities that embrace change are thriving and growing.”

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