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Grant dollars help advance technology locally

WORTHINGTON -- Putting refurbished computers in the hands of low-income families, establishing computer classes to teach English to new residents and reaching out to rural areas with local access cable television are just a few of the success stories that have grown out of a $100,000 federal grant awarded to Worthington nearly three years ago.

Those success stories were shared between local leaders Tuesday morning during a work session designed to evaluate the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) grant's impact. Worthington was one of 11 Minnesota communities selected as a MIRC demonstration site.

In the past two and a half years, MIRC has worked to build support for innovation and create a community marketing program, according to Bill Coleman, a consultant for Blandin Foundation's broadband initiative project.

Locally, those goals have been embraced by multiple agencies.

Amy Ernst, District 518 technology director, said MIRC dollars purchased 40 iPads for use in classrooms from Prairie Elementary to the Alternative Learning Center.

The iPads are used for a multitude of projects, including students in the BPA group to operate the high school concession stand. They have "several hundred apps" on them and are "very much in demand," Ernst said.

The district also utilized MIRC's PCs for People program to get rid of old monitors and damaged computer systems. The program collected 20 computers in the spring of 2011, refurbished them and delivered them back to the community, with the Worthington Chamber of Commerce handling redistribution.

The computers were sold for $25 each. A second collection last winter resulted in 15 computers refurbished and sold to low-income families at a cost of $40 each.

Worthington High School Principal Paul Karelis said the district also established wireless access with grant dollars.

"(It is) one of the best things we ever did," Karelis said, adding teachers can work on lesson plans and projects in any area of the school.

Kelly Reeves, with Worthington Cable 3, talked about how grant dollars her agency received were used to establish livestream programming on its website. Livestreaming allows people who reside outside of the city limits to watch programs broadcast on Cable 3, from city council and county board meetings to high school basketball games.

"We also now have a video archive," Reeves said, noting local business provides the Web hosting. "Now the county, state and country can see what we're doing."

Sharon Johnson, former director of the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, said the computer lab it developed with MIRC funds is utilized by a range of individuals to learn English, complete homework, apply for colleges and financial aid and work toward their U.S. citizenship.

Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. Manager Glenn Thuringer explained how a $30,000 LightSpeed grant funded a telecommunications project, including 20 laptops, at the Bioscience Advancement Center.

Karl Samp, a consultant for the Blandin Foundation's MIRC project, was pleased with the projects and how grant dollars were utilized in the Worthington area.

"Broadband access to high-speed internet right now is absolutely critical in attracting businesses," Samp said. "If rural communities don't have it, they just won't compete."

Still, broadband is just one tool in the tool box.

"It's a supporting tool," Samp said. "Broadband is helping Glenn (Thuringer) attract more bioscience businesses into this community so they know they can do business in the 21st century global economy."

The Blandin Foundation announced another round of funding to start in January, with communities vying for $1.5 million in grant dollars over the next two years. Additional money will be available for technical assistance and staff time, Samp said.

"The Blandin Foundation has been the leader in rural Minnesota for the development of broadband and high-speed Internet," he added.

Part of Tuesday's discussion included creating a wish list for future Blandin dollars.

Those ideas ranged from using education as a driver for economic development, starting a social media group to explore and update community websites, expanding the PCs for People program and investing in a coordinated communications position.

Samp said it is important for communities like Worthington to continue to vision for the future, and it is equally as important for businesses to do the same.

"You may not like change, but you'll like obsolescence even less," Samp said. "If communities and businesses don't change and adapt to the use of the internet, they will become obsolete."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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