Thursday, August 20, 2015

Broadband Infrastructure Grant Deadline September 15

During the 2015 special session, the legislature included $10,588,000 in funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program. 

The application period is now open to apply for these grants to expand broadband service in unserved and underserved regions throughout Minnesota. The grants can provide up to 50 percent of project development costs. The maximum grant amount is $5 million. The deadline for applying is September 15.
Expressions of Interest: If you have reviewed the application information and concluded that you aren’t able to apply in the 2015 grant round—please let DEED know of your interest by filling out the Expression of Interest in Support of Minnesota Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program form. They have data on the number of unserved households but YOU can help them document the demand for broadband in unserved and underserved areas to support continuation of the broadband infrastructure grant program!
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Broadband and Precision Ag

Agriculture is an important industry in northwest Minnesota. The broadband needs of the Ag sector are critical. This short video, recorded at a recent meeting in Willmar with Senator Amy Klobuchar, highlights the Ag sector's growing need.

Senator Klobuchar Talks About Funding Broadband

Senator Klobuchar has been working on the issue of rural broadband. At a recent meeting in Willmar, she talked about developments that she and Senator Thune have been working on. The solution they are working on involves getting more money out of the Universal Service Fund to support broadband, without hurting local service providers.

Frontier Communications Discusses Broadband Issues

Senator Amy Klobuchar recently visited Wilmar Minnesota to discuss rural broadband issues. In this video, Frontier Communications highlighted some of the issues surrounding serving high-cost rural areas.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman Uses YouTube and Other Broadband Tools to Reach Global Market

Jean-Paul Tessier, Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman, 
and his retriever Rocky.

In less than two short years, Jean-Paul Tessier has built an almost larger-than-life persona for himself as the “Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman.”

After launching his business, Jean-Paul quickly learned how to unleash the power of YouTube, driving literally thousands of visitors to his website from around the region and around the world. He has seen hits on his videos ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 per week.

While his business focuses on the Lake of the Woods area and the many hunting, fishing, lifestyle, and real estate opportunities that the area has to offer, Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman has become a company that reaches far beyond the shores of the lake. “It has become an international company,” Jean-Paul said.  “Everywhere the internet is available, I find customers. I take people out on the lake from Germany, Switzerland, all over.”

According to Jean-Paul, his industry and his product is “basically Lake of the Woods.”  It started as a simple fishing and hunting guiding service, but as Jean-Paul began to build his web presence, it grew into something much larger—a media-rich website that focuses on all things related to Lake of the Woods—together with a marketing service for goods, services, attractions, real estate, and other Lake of the Woods outdoor opportunities.

His website has become a revenue-generating engine for his business through the many sponsors who pay to be on it.  He would not have been able to acquire the many sponsors he has without proving that his website can generate a lot of traffic. Jean-Paul largely credits much of his web success to YouTube, which gave him the ability to connect with a wider audience.  When people go on YouTube and search for fishing and Lake of the Woods, “they find our videos and we just show them the action,” he said, “and direct them to our website.” 

Jean-Paul has almost 800 subscribers to his YouTube channel. That doesn’t mean that only 800 people see his videos, but rather, that 800 people have subscribed to his channel—every time he posts a new video, it goes directly to his subscribers.  His actual viewership is much larger, with some videos generating as many as 20,000 views.  Over the life of Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman (1.5 years) there have been 150,000 individual IP address hits on his videos. During the winter, which is the peak season for Lake of the Woods, Jean-Paul’s videos have generated as many as 1,500 views on a single day.

In addition to the number of hits and viewers he has had, YouTube has generated a lot of other information that has been valuable to Jean-Paul, including viewer location and demographics, allowing him to refine his marketing strategies in relation to his target customer.
In order to produce the videos, Jean-Paul had to purchase a camera, batteries, a MacBook Pro computer, and video editing software.  While it took him some time to learn how to use the software, he was able to teach himself everything he needed to know and felt that his investment of time and money has been relatively minimal and certainly worthwhile.  “My investment has been returned 100 times over,” he said, “and that’s in only 1.5 years.”

One of Jean-Paul’s secrets to success is his commitment to simply being genuine.  “I think the best stuff  we’ve put on is real—it’s us,” he said. Watching his videos, it’s easy to see the zest he has for life and the passion he has for a great, all-American outdoor lifestyle.  He believes in being himself and makes no apologies, including posting the story of his growing up years and his spiritual journey, on the “About Us” page of his website.

Jean-Paul recognizes that Broadband has made his business possible and has enabled him to increase the scope of his market, obtain more customers, increase profits, and gain efficiency.  “I can’t overemphasize the importance of Broadband and using video,” he said.  “To illustrate—through the internet, I have a fishing excursion scheduled that would not have happened without the customer seeing my video. He is coming up with the director of marketing from the largest tackle manufacturer in the world.  I would not have been able to work this out without Broadband.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bemidji Meat Shop Triples Walk-in Traffic Using Facebook

When you think of a business that really uses broadband technology, you probably don’t think about a meat market. Think again. The Stittsworth Meats Facebook page has landed in the top one percent of businesses in the United States for the largest number of Facebook followers (in the private business category).
Mike Stittsworth bought the business from his father three years ago.  At that time, it was located in a spot that was “off the beaten path,” and Mike decided to try using Facebook to get more people in the door.
Mike credits Facebook with making a huge impact on the business, saying that he believes it is directly responsible for 50% growth of the growth he’s seen.  The number of Stittsworth Meats’ Facebook followers has grown to a whopping 10,977 (as of this writing), the largest number of followers of any business or organization in Bemidji. Thanks to the viral nature of social media, the actual number of people who see his posts in their newsfeed is as high as 180,000 people.
The largest impact that Facebook has had on Stittsworth Meats is an increase in the number of customers, with daily walk-in traffic tripling since the business started using it.  The number of Facebook followers really started to grow when Mike offered his customers a chance to compete for a $200 Stittsworth Meats gift card. The winner was the one who shared the Stittsworth Meats Facebook page the largest number of times with their friends. The competition created a lot of buzz, regularly driving customers in the door to ask who was winning.
One of Mike’s secrets is that he doesn’t use Facebook to sell things.  “I just post pictures of stuff that looks or sounds impressive,” he said.  “I think that’s been good because people don’t feel like I’m pushing stuff on them.” 
Mike feels it’s important for business people to put themselves in the shoes of their customers.  If a customer is continually bombarded by repetitive posts, or feels that a business is constantly trying to sell them something, they might not want to see that business in their Facebook timeline. That’s not to say that Mike doesn’t post to Facebook very often.   According to Mike, he posts “frequently, sometimes two to five times per day.”
Mike believes that customer interaction is one of the most important aspects of a successful Facebook strategy.  “The more you can get people writing back to you—that’s the key” he said, “getting people to interact with you, rather than just pumping information out.”
Stittsworth Meats has been in the family since 1993 when Mike’s father and uncle purchased the Nymore Food Mart which had been in operation since 1899.  Their goal was to create an “old-fashioned meat market,” focusing on high quality cuts of meat, including steaks, roasts, ham, deli meats, cheese, and homemade smoked sausages and meats. 
Mike and his wife purchased the business in 2010, with a desire to continue the old-fashioned meat market traditions while looking for new ways to grow the business. 
The concept of family is one that Mike places a great deal of value on—even through his Facebook communications with customers. “There’s a ton of interaction through Facebook,” Mike said. “It’s almost like an extended family business...our customers are part of the family.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ada Business, Weave Got Maille, Uses Broadband Tools to Grow Business

In less than two years of being in business, Edie Ramstad has established customers in 56 countries for her rapidly growing manufacturing business, Weave Got Maille.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without broadband,” Edie said.

Her jewelry supply manufacturing facility is located on the outskirts of Ada, population 1,707, next to corn and soybean fields. 

She came to the community in 2011 when she married a local farmer, leaving behind a bricks-and-mortar store in South Dakota.

With the spirit of a true entrepreneur, and a desire to create jobs for local people, Edie decided to launch a manufacturing business in Ada.  She did her due diligence, wrote a business plan, opened her business, and began production in January, 2012. Little did she know that she would quickly blow her plan’s projections out of the water. “Within just six weeks,” Edie said, “we surpassed the fifth-year goal from our business plan.”

Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of believing simply that “if I build it, they will come.” Edie took a different path, leaving nothing to chance or circumstance and exemplifying best practices in E-commerce.  Chief among her strategies are a commitment to keeping her website fresh and current, and capitalizing on the power of social media marketing. Edie emphasizes the importance of her business website, stating that “without a doubt, it has provided the most value” of all the broadband tools they have used.  The Weave Got Maille website has helped build an international customer base that simply would not have been possible using traditional sales and marketing methods.

The tool that has provided the second greatest impact on her business has been Facebook.  Through Facebook, she has been able to reach further and deeper. The business has done a couple of movie sets, Jersey Boys (a Broadway show) and is currently  doing some work for Game of Thrones (an HBO television drama). Social media has played a large role in making these connections with the entertainment industry.  According to Edie, “it starts with somebody seeing something they like, asking ‘where did you find that,’ and on it goes.”  An example is Jersey Boys, which is using Weave Got Maille kits for its jewelry. The show found the kits on Facebook, where a cast member saw it on a friend’s Facebook timeline.

Her business has established a niche market for itself and has quickly become the premier manufacturer and supplier of jewelry-making supplies in the United States and 55 other countries.  Edie believes that she has been able to achieve this scope due to the quality and the vast array of colors Weave Got Maille produces.  While her supplies can be used by anyone who makes jewelry, her focus is on the chain maille industry, producing supplies for custom creations, fine jewelry, renaissance jewelry, and the film industry. 

Her products start out as plain wire on spools.  It then goes through several processes—coloring, coiling, cutting, sorting, and packaging.  The final products are high-quality jump rings in a rainbow of colors.  She sells the jump rings in packages.  In addition, she sells a variety of jewelry findings in a choice of metals (copper, niobium, or sterling silver) and kits that include everything needed to make a specific piece of jewelry.

Weave Got Maille currently employs twelve people. In addition to the twelve employees, the company contracts a web designer and has plans to contract a part-time social media director in the near future. In describing the impact that broadband has had on her business, Edie said that it had increased the scope of her market, helped gain more customers, increased her profits, and made her business more efficient.  She also stated that it has led to the creation of more jobs in her community.

Other broadband tools that have provided value to her business include: Wrike, a cloud-based project management software; Constant Contact, an online email marketing tool; and Endicia, a cloud-based shipping software that processes shipping labels and integrates seamlessly with QuickBooks.

Edie is a strong proponent for broadband.  “Without the broadband spectrum, we couldn’t do this in Ada,” she said. “Broadband has enabled me to live here—where I want to live—and have an international business.”

Note:  This piece has been excerpted from a recently released study of business broadband use in northwest Minnesota.  Click here for a copy of the full study.