High-speed broadband has finally come to the Dietzes’ country road in Finland, Minn., and “It’s been a life-changer!” according to Lindsey Dietz, writer, entrepreneur and website content director.
Fiber optic expansion in northeastern Minnesota is driving new work opportunities, both for the burgeoning work-at-home freelancer sector, to organizations and companies with no storefronts but big Internet presence. True North Broadband in Cook County completed its last connections in November 2015, and Lake Connections is in the final phase of making connections in some outlying areas of Lake County.
Dietz and her family relocated from Amarillo, Texas, to the North Shore in May 2015 when her husband accepted a job at Wilderness Family Naturals (WFN) in Finland as information technology support. Parents of two home-schooled children, the Dietzes were drawn north by affordable land and a good tech job.
Wilderness Family Naturals is an online supplier of health food products, based in Silver Bay and recently sold to new owner Chris Toal. Toal says that WFN is already a premier provider of organic and natural foods all over the country, with the majority of sales in coconut oil. WFN has no store-front, packaging bulk coconut oil on-site in Silver Bay and sending it out from there. Planning to take online marketing of WFN to a whole new level, Toal says the 20-year-old company has always relied on the Internet. Now, with high-speed broadband finally hooked up there, he anticipates making the company grow through intensive use of social media marketing.
Already working from home as a writer, Dietz says that when they first moved to the area, the lack of Internet service to their house was a hardship, with creative visits to share Internet connections in public places from the car, and overloading their cell phone data plan making it difficult.
With real estate prices out of their range in Texas, the Dietzes feel fortunate to find a house with acreage they can afford. A professional blogger, Dietz has also started her own company of natural food snacks and has developed an e-cookbook for sale.
“Ever since the Internet came back into our lives, it has changed them for the better,” Dietz says. Then this last November, the website she was writing for offered her a lucrative position as content director, a position that would not have been possible for her without high-speed Internet. Now she is managing a team of writers and photographers who live in Oregon, Oklahoma and Canada.
“It’s an opportunity that no way could I have said ‘yes’ to without fast Internet,” says Dietz, who started blogging as a hobby in 2009, and now is using a message application to manage her team in real time.
With many in Lake County finally getting hooked up to Lake Connections broadband and questions surfacing for customers in transition, Cole Dauer’s timing couldn’t be better. Tired of the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities, Dauer moved to Finland in 2015 to start his own tech support business. Having worked five years for IBM, Dauer decided to branch out on his own as a freelancer.
“I can fix anything from desktops to laptops, replace RAM, take apart hard drives and fix LCD screens,” Dauer says.
Hoping to build up his customer base, he offers free tech support at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland one afternoon a week. He also runs training classes and makes house calls to assist customers changing carriers.
Brian Borglum’s Two Harbors company B2 Technologies is a good example of high-speed Internet leveling the playing field regardless of geographic location. In 2008, a year after he had started the company and in the midst an economic crisis that was felt more harshly in northeastern Minnesota than many other places, Borglum moved right into the thick of it.
A freelance web developer working from home, it didn’t matter where he lived, so long as he had decent Internet. So he moved to the place he loved to visit, drawn to Two Harbors by its hiking and camping opportunities. While Borglum has not yet accessed the beefier Lake Connection fiber connection, he says it’s presence is helping him already.
“As soon as Lake Connections came in, it pushed Mediacom to increase their speed and match their price,” something that benefits Borglum. He plans to make the switch, preferring fiber for its more reliable delivery and greater speed. “I can collaborate with designers or agencies from Colorado and Florida,” he states, “or I can log into a customer’s page at the same time to do training, hold webinars or online meetings.”
Organizations like the Finland-based international advocacy group Organic Consumer’s Association utterly depends on the Internet to reach more than 600,000 subscribers. Since they obtained broadband late in 2015, they report having greater power to stream video, enhancing their ability to reach a wider audience.
“We sort of pioneered using the Internet from the backwoods here; now our reach is amazing with Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter,” says OCA’s Melinda Suelflow, who estimates there are about 2 million followers of their online grassroots campaign.
At the farthest edge of technology’s reach, Bill Hansen at Sawbill Outfitters outside of Tofte says that not only has his business been made more efficient with broadband, but that real estate interest is picking up and he knows of at least four people who have permanently moved to the area now that they can access high-speed Internet.
“There was a lot of pent up demand, people who wanted to move to Cook County, but needed fast Internet,” Hansen says.