Gogebic County, Michigan (October 26, 2021) – Reliable broadband can have many positive effects on a community, such as improving the quality of education, fueling the growth of local businesses, and providing access to healthcare no matter where you live. In addition, high-speed internet gives residents the ability to telework.
Over the past 18 months, teleworking has become more common. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1 in 4 people ages 25 to 54 work remotely. Because this shift allows people to work from anywhere, officials in both Gogebic County, Michigan, and Iron County, Wisconsin, saw an opportunity to help their communities by increasing broadband access for their residents.
Gogebic and Iron counties are adjacent to each other on the state line, 30 minutes south of Lake Superior. Their scenery is picturesque, surrounded by lakes and forests with an abundance of natural beauty. While the breathtaking views are one reason residents choose to call these counties home, in 2015 many of them still lacked adequate broadband, making telework challenging or not possible at all.
The Gogebic Range Broadband Committee (GRBC) has partnered with Connected Nation Michigan (CN Michigan) on two separate projects in the past six years, working with CN Michigan in 2015 and again in 2019-20 to survey residents and find out more about their broadband access, or lack thereof.
The 2019 survey determined that 38% of the Gogebic County population worked either full time or part time outside of a conventional workplace, and 58% felt their broadband service did not meet their needs.
With a Technology Action Plan in hand thanks to the results of these surveys, the GRBC turned its focus toward facilitating the expansion of broadband in Gogebic and Iron counties. Both counties agreed to support the creation of a telework location and support program, with the University of Wisconsin Extension and the Gogebic Community College Workforce Development leading the effort.
“I believe that teleworking centers and shared workspaces are extremely important due to the large number of individuals who are now choosing to work remotely in our area,” said Norman “Mick” Mckindles III, Chairman of GRBC. “It is without reservation that I support the development and expansion of these centers as they become a necessary part of our community. In addition, I feel that it is vital for local governments and educational organizations to embrace and support the concept, as telecommuters and remote workers who visit or move to our area enhance our local economy.”
New center offers residents space to work and gather
The process of launching the new Teleworking Support Centerbegan with teleworker marketing parties, which assessed the needs of the teleworking population in both counties. During this time, the search began for a sustainable site that would be anchored by an established organization. Ultimately, Gogebic Community College offered to host the center on its campus.
“We were looking to provide a service to our communities,” said Glen Ackerman-Behr, Director of Workforce Development for the Gogebic Community College. “We know there are a number of telecommuters in our region that are looking for space to work and conduct meetings. For the short term, we have the capacity and realize there are a lot of unknowns, but we will continue to monitor and adjust as we go.”
The college’s Workforce Development Program will be the anchor organization for the project, facilitating open houses and promoting the center’s services. The center is well on its way to launching in November 2021. Modifications have been made to the space, and new furniture will be delivered at the end of October.
In addition to individual workstations, the Telework Support Center offers a conference room with a white board to accommodate in-person or online meetings. Teleworkers also will have access to the college’s cafeteria and coffee shop, which are located within the same building. Individual can access center’s services at no cost.
“Our goal is to meet a need and grow our economy locally,” added Ackerman-Behr. “We hope the college can be a leader in this area.”
With an increasing portion of the U.S. population shifting to telework, centers like this give local residents who are still lacking broadband access the opportunity to work remotely. The hope is that the economies in both Gogebic and Iron counties will continue to flourish, and fewer residents will need to move away for work. After all, when you’re surrounded by the beauty of Northern Michigan and Wisconsin, why work anywhere else?
About the author: Ashley Pino is responsible for the communications and marketing functions that broadly publicize Connected Nation (CN)’s mission, educate stakeholders on Digital Divide issues, and lead to new programs and projects that expand CN’s social impact. Additionally, she supports ‘Connected’ communities through targeted communication campaigns including community-specific marketing collateral, personalized press releases and storytelling. Ms. Pino holds a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Cincinnati and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.
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