Lead for Minnesota Fellow, Patrick Garry, to address broadband access in Redwood County

Deb Moldaschel
Redwood Falls Gazette

Lead For America, Land O’Lakes, Inc., the Mayo Clinic, Midwest Dairy and Scoular recently announced the placement of six American Connection Corps (ACC) Fellows in Minnesota, part of a group of 50 individuals placed in communities across the country. These Fellows will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy as well as contribute to critical community development initiatives in communities across Minnesota. Lead for Minnesota Fellow Patrick Garry was chosen for placement in Redwood County to work with the county EDA on broadband access throughout the county.

Garry arrived in Redwood Falls on Aug. 9 to begin his work as Redwood County EDA Broadband Coordinator. He is not a county employee, rather his position is a contract for service, with Redwood County Economic Development Coordinator Briana Mumme as his host.

Garry grew up in the Twin Cities but has family ties to the rural area and agriculture. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Industrial Design. 

"Industrial Design is focused on human-centered design," Garry said. "My senior thesis was on grain bin entrapment. I wanted to work with rural America, so this fellowship was an easy decision for me." Garry described the Redwood area as the "center of everywhere."

Lead for Minnesota Fellow Patrick Garry (right) meets with Lead for Minnesota board member Bruce Tiffany of Tiffany Farms.

Mumme brought this program to the attention of the Redwood County Board and made application to have a Lead for Minnesota Fellow placed in Redwood County. At the March 16 county board meeting she presented final information on the Lead for Minnesota Fellow program—which places recent college graduates in communities to carry out a project for two years. The board approved participation and to allocate up to $15,000 towards funding the hiring of the Fellow to be tasked with carrying out the work needed to increase broadband access throughout the county. 

The Fellow position in Redwood County is also funded through the Lead for America program, Americorps, the Blandin Foundation and the Southwest Initiative Foundation. 

Mumme said for the last two years, the EDA Board has identified broadband as a priority, "The EDA strategic plan is to address and increase broadband access throughout the County."

“We know access to high-speed internet service is essential for day-to-day activities, and certainly COVID underscored the need," said Mumme about schools, many work places, even medical appointments, moving to online platforms. "As a County with some of the largest gaps in service, the EDA and County Commissioners are proud to partner with Lead for Minnesota, and begin working with Patrick to address broadband access throughout Redwood County.”

Those gaps in internet service that Mumme referenced are severe as Redwood County currently ranks number 87 out of 87 counties in the state as it relates to a broadband speed of 25 mbps (megabits per second) download speed and 3 mbps upload and ranks number 86 for 100/20 mbps. Mumme said the goal in the state is for every household and business to be served a minimum of 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. "We are not currently positioned to meet either goal," she said.

“In Redwood County we look to position the communities we serve to embrace in the next generation of rural America," said Garry. "We look at broadband as an investment for future generations. In today’s connected age broadband is essential for new avenues of employment, agricultural development, and education initiatives, just to name a few.”

“A significant part of broadband is understanding all the downstream effects of this technology," Garry said. "It is not all about Netflix or video games, rather it is about creating opportunity. Opportunity to start your own business, seek career development, learn about novel medical therapies, or to pivot an existing business to meet shifting consumer needs. This technology is a vehicle for growth.”

Garry said his first initiative is a "listening tour" of the county's communities, businesses, farmers, healthcare providers, schools and any residents interested in access to broadband, to learn more about the needs and impact in the area.

Mumme and Garry agreed that recent federal legislation to fund broadband access throughout the United States will be a valuable tool for the goals of their program. They will be working with the Redwood area internet providers to learn their vision and goals for how best to fill the gaps in broadband access.

“What motivates our group is a shared vision for what rural America can be," said Garry. "We hope to curate collaborative environments that foster innovation and build upon our past. We realize we can only complete this goal with community support and advocacy.”

Lead for Minnesota has two Redwood County residents serving on their board—Bruce Tiffany of Tiffany Farms and Vanessa Goodthunder, Executive Director of Caƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi – Lower Sioux Early Head Start and Head Start.

Garry and Mumme are eager to have community input on this broadband access project. They invite community members to connect with Garry to learn more by emailing at Patrick_G@co.redwood.mn.us or calling (507) 637-1362.

The American Connection Corps is led in conjunction with Lead For America and funded through the support of 20 additional partner organizations, including: Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook County Creamery Association, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.