Deadline for MIRC grants extendedWORTHINGTON — The C.K. Blandin Foundation’s Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative is working to help rural communities stay technologically competitive with urban areas and is seeking applications from organizations and businesses for grant funding.
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The C.K. Blandin Foundation’s Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative is working to help rural communities stay technologically competitive with urban areas and is seeking applications from organizations and businesses for grant funding.
The deadline for organizations and businesses to submit a grant application for the program has been extended to Nov. 1, according to Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC) manager Glenn Thuringer.
The areas for funding include ensuring broadband, creating and supporting knowledgable workers, spurring innovation, addressing digital inclusion and advocacy for a community’s broadband economy strengths.
The Blandin Foundation was awarded a $4.7 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant on behalf of rural Minnesota communities. Directly and through MIRC, Blandin will use the stimulus funds for projects that will increase vitality and economic competitiveness.
Targeted populations are rural Minnesota residents who are seeking employment, small main street businesses that have not yet adopted modern Internet-based technologies, county governments working together to implement technology plans, and “demonstration communities” where local leadership has recognized broadband as a critical infrastructure in the global economy.
Worthington and Windom were two of 11 cities chosen as broadband demonstration communities.
Karl Samp, on behalf of Community Technology Advisors, visited Worthington Friday morning to speak with Thuringer and representatives from the Worthington Area Foundation about encouraging applications and reviewing proposals.
“This can be also used for businesses that have an interest in receiving training on the use of technology and the Internet to enhance their business,” Samp stated. “They can become more successful and profitable and possibly open up to a worldwide market.”
Some project ideas under discussion include training and testing centers for higher education, increased access to translators and multilingual websites, better connections in infrastructure and marketing public access locations. Representatives from the Minnesota Workforce Center, the University of Minnesota Extension Office, the Nobles County Integration Collaborative and local cable are already working with MIRC on project ideas and opportunities.
Thuringer said anyone who is interested in applying for grant funds can contact his office at 372-5515 for information, an application or assistance in filling it out.
According to a MIRC publication, the gap between rural and urban broadband adoption are compounded by demographics that include an aging population, lower per capita income and lower educational attainment.
“Given the importance of high bandwidth technologies and services and their effective use to economic competitiveness and quality of life, this gap is a critical challenge for the future vitality of Minnesota’s rural places,” the publication states.
To aid in bringing technology to families, the foundation has also partnered with PCs for People, a nonprofit company that takes donated computers and rebuilds, refurbishes and redistributes them to people with limited means.
Beginning Monday, the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce will be accepting computers five years old or less for refurbishing.
“They will be brought back to the community for distribution to low-income families,” Samp stated. “And Worthington will also get another 25 free computers for distribution.”
To qualify for a free computer, a household must be 150 percent below the federal poverty guidelines and have a school-aged child. Many families who qualify for the free school lunch program or Head Start may also qualify to get a free computer, monitor and printer.
“Financial eligibility must be certified,” Kamp said.
With the computer comes a one-year free subscription to Atomic Training, an online tutorial site which provides access to more than 150 applications such as Power Point, Outlook, Photoshop and other commonly used software.
“If you can think it of, they’ve got it,” Samp explained.
The training site uses video clips to help computer users develop and increase technology skills, proficiency and productivity.
“(District 518) is considering purchasing a subscription for the schools,” Samp stated. “Windom already uses it.”
Anyone who gets a computer through PCs for People is required to pay for their own Internet access, although some communities have worked out deals with providers to have reduced fees.
“PCs for People research shows that 80 percent of those who get a computer do sign up for Internet access, even it is just dial-up,” Samp stated. “They find a way.”
Anyone interested in obtaining a free computer can contact the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce for more information at 372-2919.