As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog…
Congratulations to both of Minnesota’s East Central Region and Alexandria Lakes Area for making this year’s Smart 21 Communities list. This recognition means that these communities’ economic development teams are doing some great thinking and working on the future! I have been promoting the Intelligent Community concept through my work with Blandin Foundation for more than a decade – first, with the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community initiative, and then followed by the Blandin Broadband Communities program. Depending on how you count, we have worked with more than 50 “communities, “ including cities, counties, tribal governments and regional planning commissions, even a unique multi-community effort called the “Central Woodlands” in the northern section of east central Minnesota.
The Intelligent Community concept transforms the thinking around the pursuit of broadband infrastructure from the end in itself to the creation of a platform for community vitality. Many of you have heard my analogy of broadband infrastructure as an exercise bike. To achieve benefit, you need to actually get up off the couch and pedal. ICF views broadband infrastructure as supporting workforce, innovation, digital inclusion, sustainability, and community engagement activities. Blandin has funded hundreds of projects to get communities up and pedaling that has increased community tech vitality.
The real value in the ICF framework is where the various elements connect; it is there where there is great opportunity for cross-sector collaboration and systemic transformation. Strategic thinking and partnerships among universities, businesses, and government partners are essential for big picture initiatives that can support long-term community competitiveness. You also need to include the general citizenry! The ICF model requires “adaptive community coalitions,” a phrase used by the New York Times Tom Friedman at last year’s Blandin broadband conference. Or, in the ideal, what I would say is getting the right people together at the right time to do the right thing! Or in real life, “getting some of the right people together, not too late, to do the best you can!”
Communities that work together over a long time, like the Alexandria Lakes Area and the East Central Region, build the relationships and trust to be successful. The Alexandria Economic Development Commission has worked in close partnership with the Alexandria Technical and Community College for 40 years through the Minnesota Star City Program and beyond that program’s life. That work continues. Similarly, Pine Technical College has been building a regional economic development coalition for almost as long. The positive results are evident. Congratulations to their past, present and emerging leaders!