Election update

As we wait for the final results of the last few Minnesota legislative races to come in, one thing continues to become clear: the DFL continues to shore up its political control in the Twin Cities, and the Republicans continue to shore up their control in Greater Minnesota.

At the end of the night, it appears that the Republicans were able to flip five DFL held seats in the House, bringing the DFL majority down to 70-64. Three of the five flipped seats are from Greater Minnesota. Some of these races may change as mail-in ballots continue to come in, and some of the races will likely have recounts. Flipped seats include the likely loss of Rep. Jeanne Poppe, an eight-term legislator from Austin, and Rep. John Persell, a five-term (non-consecutive) legislator from Bemidji. The Republicans did flip two Twin Cities seats, defeating Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) and Rep. Ann Claflin (DFL-South St. Paul).

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Finally, a bonding bill

During the October special session, the Minnesota Legislature finally passed the long-anticipated bonding bill, which makes strategic and necessary long-term capital investments in state properties and to support local communities with their regional needs. The bill includes $1.9 billion in bonds: $1.3 billion on in general obligation (GO) bonds, $300 million in transportation bonds, and $150 million in appropriation bonds. 

This is the first time the legislature has passed a bonding bill with more than $1 billion in GO bonds, and it provides substantial investment throughout Greater Minnesota. In addition to funding numerous statewide capital improvement programs, the bonding bill includes more than $500 million in specific projects in communities throughout Greater Minnesota, including investing in clean water infrastructure, flood mitigation, improvements to roads, bridges, and airports, and replacing aging infrastructure.

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Deadlines approach for child care grants

Two deadlines are approaching for grants available to child care providers and communities looking address child care shortages.

Providers looking to access the $53 million available in COVID-19 Public Health Support Funds for Child Care, a program funded through the federal CARES Act and sponsored by the MN Department of Human Services, have until Oct. 14 to apply. Grants are available to help providers cover the cost of safeguarding the health and safety of children and staff for three months. Grants of up to $1,200 a month for family care providers and $8,500 for centers are available for providers who the meet the following criteria:

• Operating on Sept. 15
• Committed to operating through Dec. 15
• License in good standing
• Not found responsible for fraud in the past

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Blandin’s Broadband Conference to take place over 4 weeks

The Blandin Foundation is holding its annual Broadband Conference in a very different way this year. Rather than a usual 1-2 day conference filled with back-to-back seminars and panel discussions, this years’ conference will take place over four weeks. And thanks to broadband, the conference will be 100% virtual.

With the use of a virtual setting and by spreading the conference over four weeks, Blandin is also moving away from a meeting-based conference to more focus on collaboration, community discussion, and mentorship. Opportunities include:

  • Custom meetup/mentoring sessions where you can meet online with potential partners and/or experts in broadband adoption and deployment
  • Learning cohorts (small groups) to connect you with other attendees to bounce ideas and traverse an online event throughout the conference
  • Keynote speakers with the option to ask questions in real time or later, including Shirley Bloomfield of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Coalition, Roberto Gallardo from Purdue Center for Regional Development, Deb Socia from The Enterprise Center, and internationally known author and journalist Thomas Friedman.
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Annual survey DEED/Minneapolis Federal Reserve examines business service firms’ current conditions, future expectations

Each year since 2006, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota have conducted a survey of Minnesota business services firms, such as engineers, accountants, architects and others, about their outlook on industry trends and the business climate. The results of the 2020 survey were recently released and hold higher-than-normal intrigue due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Some interesting takeaways noted by DEED include that more than half of respondents (57%) reported a decline in revenue and exactly half of respondents reported a drop in employee productivity due to the pandemic. Nearly half of respondents (48%) said they expect to go back to normal operations in more than six months, while almost one-fifth (18%) said their business will not go back to normal. Continue reading

First Children’s Finance seeks rural communities to partner on child care initiative

First Children’s Finance is looking to partner with communities from Greater Minnesota for their Rural Child Care Innovation Program. The Innovation Program, funded through grants from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, provides funding and technical support to assist communities in developing solutions to increase the supply of high-quality affordable child care.
The program aims to:

1) Strengthen existing early childhood care and education businesses, ensuring that children have continuity of care that prepares them for success in school and beyond,
2) Expand the availability of quality child care by creating new and innovative community solutions, and
3) Increase the regional and statewide awareness of early care and education’s role in rural economic development.
The program requires a community’s commitment of 18-24 months.
More information, including how to apply, is available at https://www.ruralchildcare.org/ or join in a webinar on Sept. 15 from 1:30-2 p.m. Click here to attend

New website provides access to Minnesota’s ‘COVID-19 checkbook’

Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) launched a new webpage this week that outlines the state’s COVID-19 financial status. The Minnesota COVID-19 Checkbook provides direct access to budget and payment information as it relates to COVID-19-related funding. The figures are updated daily based on accounting data and actual agencies’ revenue and expenditure transactions. The checkbook includes both state funding and federal dollars, totaling over $2.5 billion. Currently, the state has spent more 90% of those funds on numerous pandemic response efforts.  

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition launches statewide speed test initiative

COVID-19 has shown how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that we are being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. Broadband is no different than any other basic utility that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

The Minnesota Speed Test Initiative wants to find out exactly where broadband service is available in Minnesota and what speeds households and businesses are receiving. A pilot program for speed testing is ongoing in St Louis, Koochiching and Itasca counties. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses. These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the three northern Minnesota counties.

We encourage you to take the test at mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest, and share it with others in your community as well. Continue reading

Reminder: Call for Border to Border Broadband Grant applications

Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development and the Office of Broadband Development:

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) wishes to remind all potential broadband grant applicants for this year’s 2020 grant round that – prior to submitting a broadband grant application – every applicant must contact all existing wireline broadband providers in the proposed project area.  This pre-application outreach requires each applicant to include a description of the proposed project and a map of the project area with the written outreach.

Under current law, this must be completed no later than six weeks prior to the grant application deadline of September 30, 2020.  That makes the last allowable date for written (email) outreach to all existing providers in the project area to be August 19, 2020. Continue reading

Report says wages go farther in Greater Minnesota

The maps show that once the cost of living is factored in for monthly wages, Greater Minnesota residents are spending a smaller percentage of their monthly wages on cost-of-living expenses.

Comparing wages across the state of Minnesota often shows that Greater Minnesota communities have lower median monthly wages. However, this may not show the whole picture. The Center for Rural Policy and Development recently published an article titled “Wages can go farther in greater Minnesota.”

This study found that when comparing wages to cost of living by region, counties in western and southern Minnesota have a much lower cost of living than their metro counterparts. This makes their monthly cost of living a much smaller percentage of their median monthly wage. According to the study, central and northeast Minnesota have more low-paying jobs and a slightly higher cost of living than the rest of Greater Minnesota. Continue reading