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Labor committee approves bill to help communities attract telecommuters

If you designate it, they will come.

At least that’s the hope of supporters of HF2181 that would allow cities, townships and counties to be designated by the Department of Employment and Economic Development as a Telecommuter Forward! Community.

The voluntary certification would signify that the community is telecommuter friendly, said Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing), the bill sponsor, adding it would give these communities an edge when seeking to build up a workforce.

The House Labor Committee approved the bill, as amended, Wednesday and sent it to the House Floor. The companion, SF2094, is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Mathews (R-Milaca) and awaits action on the Senate Floor.

Economic development in rural Minnesota has changed, testified Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

“In small towns like the one I live in, we are no longer chasing 200-job factories,” he said. “We are trying to recruit telecommuters to live in Greater Minnesota one and two jobs at a time, all the time.”

The bill would require cities, townships and counties seeking Telecommuter Forward! Certification to designate a “single point of contact for coordinating telecommuting opportunities.”

Christensen said a similar program has been in place in Wisconsin for more than a year, and has been very successful. Typically, a city manager or the Chamber of Commerce would be the point of contact, he said, but it could also be a local broadband provider.

The bill outlines several requirements of the single point of contact, including:

  • promoting telecommuter-friendly work spaces, such as business incubators with telecommuting spaces;
  • coordinating with broadband providers and other telecommuting stakeholders;
  • collaborating with broadband providers and employers to identify, develop and market telecommuter-capable broadband packages; and
  • maintaining regular communication with the state broadband office.

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