Letter to the editor

To the editor,

In today’s world, economic development in rural areas needs a lot of serious attention. Young people go off to vocational schools, colleges or to find jobs in other areas. Downtown areas in rural communities have a hard time to stay afloat without a pandemic and worse during a pandemic.

Rep. Rob Ecklund and Sen. Tom Bakk understand that and have taken the lead in the Minnesota Legislature to bring funding to rural areas that build internet infrastructure. Broadband internet is the future. It makes it possible for many to work from home, not have to leave their communities and possibilities for businesses to thrive and grow. This pandemic surely has shown us the importance of the internet for students and their families.

Some older folks were around when President FDR signed legislation in 1936 that appropriated federal dollars to establish rural electrification. That sure did help with rural economic development. Without electricity many businesses couldn’t consider settling in rural communities because they needed electricity and there was none. Rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural communities.

I was born after rural electric distribution and generation companies were built. I didn’t learn about rural electric cooperatives until I accepted a government relations job with the Minnesota Rural Electric Cooperative Association (MREA) in 1991. Prior to that I had worked for the Minnesota Senate then the Legislative Commission on Public Education. I grew up and lived in a rural area where investor-owned companies provided electricity. I hadn’t been exposed to the history of electrification in the U.S.

MREA believed that with my connections and understanding of how the legislature worked, they could teach me about electricity and electric cooperatives. I learned so much history, about business models and about electricity. I had the opportunity to educate legislators from urban and suburban areas about rural electric cooperatives as I advocated for them. In 1996, I moved to northern Minnesota and later served on a rural electric board of directors.

Learning that Ecklund and Bakk are working on bringing broadband to this district caused me to reflect on rural electric history and business models. Like rural electrics, broadband can make it possible for our rural communities to build back better, for businesses to grow, offer employment opportunities to people who choose the rural lifestyle and to build a strong rural economy.

I wish Ecklund and Bakk much success in this so important effort. They sure have my full support.

Sue Hankner

Buyck, MN