High Speed Internet Service Key to Rural and Small-Town Minnesota’s Vitality

Brad Finstad

It’s a familiar story: A bright, ambitious 22-year-old who grew up in a small Minnesota town decides to move to the Twin Cities after graduating from college because that’s where she can find a well-paying job.

Everyone living in rural Minnesota can insert the names of numerous individuals they know into the story described above. It’s no secret that much of the struggles today in our parts of the state—and throughout rural America in general—are directly tied to the fact that too many young people are moving away from our small towns and rural areas for “bigger and better opportunities” in the Twin Cities.

If you talk to young people who have moved away, most of them will tell you that they’d love to come back home to raise their own families where they grew up. Unfortunately, they say, the professional jobs back home are few and far between and they pay nowhere near what the jobs pay in the Twin Cities.

It pains me to admit that what our former neighbors are saying about well-paying job opportunities in rural and small-town Minnesota is true. All, however, is not lost.

While they are still outnumbered by stories of our college graduates moving to the Twin Cities, more and more stories of young professionals from rural Minnesota moving back home are popping up.

Today, people can work from anywhere if they have access to high-speed Internet service. A woman I know works for a Twin Cities insurance company from her home between St. James and Sleepy Eye. A colleague of my friend works for a Twin Cities public relations agency remotely from his home in Perham, traveling to his office in Bloomington for meetings just once every other week.

High-speed Internet service and telecommuting-friendly Twin Cities employers offer rural Minnesota professionals the best of both worlds: They can have jobs with Twin Cities employers making Twin Cities salaries while living and raising their families in rural Minnesota.

Of course, telecommuting is not an option without high-speed Internet, and too much of rural Minnesota is without this service, or it’s too slow or too expensive.

The Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force—a 23-member panel of representatives from government, various communities, businesses and telecommunications companies—recently issued a report calling for everyone in our state to have access to high-speed Internet service, with download speeds of 10-25 megabits per second, by 2015.

This is an ambitious goal, and how we are going to realize it is not yet clear. What’s crystal clear, however, is that we must do everything we can to make doing business in rural Minnesota more viable for more people and more companies, and high-speed Internet service can help make this happen.

(Brad Finstad is executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development. He can be reached at bfinstad@ruralmn.org.)