Duluth, MN, pwns Topeka, KS

For years I’ve been pushing high speed internet and 21st century e-commuters as perhaps the most important way to diversify the natural resource-based economy of northern Minnesota. We can’t out-sprawl the suburbs. We can’t out-hipster the big cities. We can be ourselves and attract people who like the laid-back, comfortable, yet education-focused atmosphere of northern Minnesota to do the work of the 21st century.

Well, you might have heard that Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., (the Twin Ports) have been courting the new Google Fiber initiative, an effort by the global leader in Internet searches and servers to expand the speed of internet in the United States. The Twin Ports join several cities in seeking the first test site status of Google Fiber, but perhaps scored an important jolt to the first tier by the following response to the move by Topeka, Kansas, to temporarily rename itself “Google, Kansas.”

At first I thought it was weird that Duluth Mayor Don Ness got out in front of the sketch to do an intro and outro for the video, explaining that it was satire. Then, after thought, I realized that the audience for this video is not the typical mouth breathing internet addict like myself, rather, it’s the people at Google. I think Duluth’s answer here demonstrated that this community can do more than a symbolic gesture to get a corporate nod. Instead, Duluth responded to Topeka immediately, creatively and professionally. The Google way.


Hey, Google. Duluth is the regional seat of an area with more freshwater lakes, forests, parks and alcoholic beverages than Topeka on Mardi Gras. If you want a place that’s flat and desperate, go Topeka. If you want an area with an advanced network of higher education facilities that could use a job or two and wouldn’t mind your company, don’cha know, try Duluth.

Any effort to get such an innovative effort closer to the Iron Range, just north of Duluth, with its unique network of local economic development funding from iron mining revenue, is a good thing. Unlike other “rust belt” places past their industrial bloom, the Duluth/Iron Range/northern Wisconsin region remains a beautiful, affordable place to live. The place could just use a little juice. You know what I mean, Google.

(h/t Mashable)


  1. Anonymous says

    Nah, I disagree. What the Range needs is a little industrial boom, ala copper mines and steel mills. The internet is a playground for entertainment, retail sales, and news outlets, not much more. It isn’t going to return the Range to prosperity, but real, live industries will. Performed with an eye to preserving the environment, of course. Wireless initiatives are no substitute for real businesses.

  2. Jennifer Rian says

    I respectfully disagree, anonymous. Information technology is an industry in its own right, where skilled workers earn a decent wage. Attracting companies like Google to put down roots in northeastern Minnesota is a good thing. I would also venture to say that the mining industry would appreciate access to improved internet connections. It’s all about communication, education, and simple access to information for personal and business use. The internet’s educational resource value alone should be reason enough for us to advocate for Google to come to the region. I hope it does.

  3. Jennifer beat me to the punch. Yes, I think you’re missing the point here. The perception that the Internet is just a “playground” is the biggest thing holding us back in places like northern Minnesota. The jobs that will drive the future are creative: engineers, media content producers, inventors and systems folks. With the right kind of Internet these jobs can be done from Duluth (or Bovey for that matter) as easily as New York. That’s huge and a big advantage for areas like ours with natural beauty and affordable housing.

    Copper mines and steel mills are fine, but in the 21st century those kinds of jobs can be done with a tiny fraction of the workers as “the good old days.” A high speed Internet approach could pave the way for vast numbers of jobs, some of which might not yet have been invented.

  4. Anonymous says


    I live in Southern California (orig. from the Range), where high-speed internet is hard *not* to find. Guess what, the legislature out here has gutted the basic industries (including agriculture) with environmental over-regulation, while encouraging anything internet. Our unemployment rate stands at 12.1%, and it’s not getting any better. When you encourage all your basic industry to move to Asia, and hammer away at the fools that remain with overregulation, the internet (which, by the way is a tool and communication device, not an industry) is not going to return your state (region, whatever) to prosperity. This idea that high-speed internet is the answer to every problem is not a healthy thing. It’s a tool, a support device, something to be used by people and businesses to communicate. It can’t replace business and industry, it can only aid it. You still have to have the original basic industry for prosperity to happen.

  5. Oh, I certainly agree with you that this is a tool, not an outcome in itself. California has widespread high-speed internet because there are more people and more demand. What I’m talking about is more related to the big picture. If you (1) suppose that the work of the future can be more mobile and less centralized so long as you have access to high speed internet and (2) suppose that this will have the effect of allowing professionals to live anywhere they want and (3) suppose that economic development resources in Northern Minn. can be dedicated to preparing a tech infrastructure for this market, then (OUTCOME) when creative professionals are untethered from their moorings they will seek out places like northern Minnesota instead of crowded cities and overpriced suburbs.

    That’s the proof I’m working on, anyway. It’s not perfect and there would be unintended consequences and risk, but it seems a lot more logical than betting on industries past their peak. Natural resource industries are much more price driven and volatile; best served by the financial strength of the big companies that have experience working with mining. If you want “new” jobs, though, you have to think in small, incremental bursts — entrepreneurs and individual creative producers. An ideal role for government is to either produce the tech infrastructure itself (socialism!) or partner with a proven company (like Google) to lay down that infrastructure.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, but that’s what I mean when I talk about this stuff.

  6. Anonymous says

    It’s a nice theory, but unfortunately, I think rural internet access actually moves businesses in the other direction, increasing centralization of services. Where we once had small town banks and small retail stores, they are being replaced by big centralized institutions which can now be accessed electronically instead of physically, at a cheaper cost and more conveniently. As the businesses become more centralized, so does the population. If there’s no reason for rural dwellers to buy and use local services, they go away, and so do some of the jobs that once created the possibility for living there.

    Telecommuting works for a few occupations, but in general, you’ve still gotta live where you work. Those natural resource industries are still the main drivers of the Range’s Economy. If they go away, so will the possibility of making a living in the region for many, many people. Tourism and retirement related business can only carry an economy so far.

  7. Again, no disagreement, but we’re talking about two different things. What you’re describing IS happening and will continue happening whether we do nothing or something about high speed internet in northern Minnesota. We can and should maintain our traditional industries, but those represent a foundation, not walls or a ceiling. Industrial work is becoming so efficient and technical that the number of jobs will continue shrinking even if mining goes on forever. And with the rest of the economy reliant on tourism and senior care (as you point out) we have a dysfunctional economy that drives away young people and creative people.

  8. Anonymous says

    Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of rural high speed internet, and I believe it would create opportunities, but I don’t believe Google is the entity to fly with. If anything, Google has been responsible for more centralization of the economy than anyone. Just try to find any kind of small business that can afford to list or even shows up on a Google search. Partnering with Google will suck the life out of any small business left in the area, if they are allowed to control access (and they will, one way or another).

    If there ever was a utility that cries out for government oversight, it’s high speed internet access*. Maybe it’s socialism, but it’s been done before with good results — take for instance, rural electrification, phone service, or even road building. Without government controls and oversight, country-dwellers would still be living at the end of a two-wheel trail, with no phone or electric. Google will give highspeed to the larger concentrations of population, but I’d bet big bucks that the rest of rural MN would get left out in the cold, one way or another. They’re big, they have a profit motive (as they should) and they aren’t going to spend money where they can’t make money.

    *Note- this from a normally right-leaning, anti-big government individual (me). It hurts, but I believe it’s necessary.

  9. Anonymous says

    One more comment, and I’ll leave this topic alone. My real-life experience re rural highspeed internet — I live in the mountains about 30 miles from any population center by road. I’ve been trying literally for years to get decent internet access, and I have actually attempted telecommuting in several businesses I either owned or participated in. After dialup became impractical for daily use, I signed up for satellite service. Fine, until Hughes put a 5MB/day limit on downloads, which essentially put me back to dial up bandwidth (email and a little browsing, beyond that, they cut you off). Moved to mobile broadband (cellphone tower), again fine, but eventually came the 5GB/month bandwidth limit, back to dialup limits again. I found another mobile broadband service with no limit, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

    Private companies or corps are not going to get you where you want to go when it comes to highspeed.

  10. Anonymous,

    I have to disagree with you that smaller businesses can’t afford to get listed by Google. Side ads are extremely cheap and getting listed on Google Maps is completely free. One just needs to spend an hour or two how to set these up. To get listed higher in a google search, there are several things one can do for free since searches are based on link counting. And for those businesses who want to spend some money to have their search results optimized, there are many companies that do that right here in the Northland. Two of them are PureDriven based in Two Harbors and AimClear based in Duluth. I’m not all that familiar with AimClear, but PureDriven is certainly not out of the price range for your average small business. In fact, it’s probably no more than putting an ad in the yellow pages.

    For those of you that want to help the Twin Ports get Google High Speed Internet, please go to http://www.googletwinports.com and submit a nomination. If you don’t have that much time, please at least become a fan of us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=297173064066&ref=ts

  11. You know, this telephone thing is just a passing fancy- there is no reason that anyone would need to have one in their home way out in the northern wilderness.

    Radio? Just a playground of the non-busy.

    Television? Good grief, it’s a vast wasteland.

    What would anyone do with a computer in their home?

    For all of you doubters: No new big business is coming WITHOUT high speed, high-bandwidth Internet; You don’t put the cart before the horse.

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