Information technology bootstraps: a North Dakota success story

Information technology isn't just for big cities and suburbs anymore. Just ask Rick Forsgren, executive director of the Traill County Economic Development Commission whose rural hometown of Mayville, ND, has positioned itself as a tech-savvy town where new and existing businesses develop and expand, and residents can enjoy both a small town's quality of life and higher-paying jobs.

Mayville's success story is one of many that will be shared at this year's 11th annual Telepower Conference, to be held Oct. 24 and 25 in Garden City, KS. Telepower is a two-day conference sponsored by Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs. The conference helps rural community leaders and business owners to use information technology to promote local industry.

In the late 1990s, Mayville realized that its farm-based economy was in serious decline. With a population of a little under 2,000, citizens decided to take matters into their own hands, and began to diversify their economy through the use of information technology.

Mayville created a business resurgence through cooperation from community leaders, developing an understanding of the new economy, and a dose of good, old fashioned hard work.

"We needed to diversify," said Forsgren. "Information-based businesses can operate anywhere that sufficient, affordable connectivity exists, and there is a willing labor pool." Many people live in rural areas because that's where they want to be, he said, and "not all can find good paying jobs in agriculture."

Enter the Traill County Technology Center (TCTC). This group of community leaders and business people came together in 1999 to develop a business incubator. Housed in two buildings at Mayville State University, the center gives tenants access to a statewide, high-speed telecommunications network at affordable rates. It also provides low-cost office space, technical support and access to student interns for start-up businesses.

After a little over two years in operation, TCTC has created 25 jobs with the promise of more to come. "What's more important are the possibilities that it represents for the future," said Forsgren.
"Information technology will play a part in all businesses within the next 10 years," he said. "It may not be the basis of the business, but the business will need information technology to survive."

At Telepower, rural leaders, state officials and telecommunications business representatives will come together to learn, share ideas and help shape the economic futures of their communities, using the very latest in information technology. Topics to be covered during the conference include using the Internet to develop higher paying jobs, growing an information technology workforce, information technology and value-added agriculture, and building community demand for broadband technology.

This year's conference promises valuable information and ample time to network and rub shoulders with leaders in the technology community.

Underwriting sponsors include Fort Hays State University, Southwestern Bell, Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, and Hubris Communications. Corporate sponsors are Nex-Tech Rural Telephone, Information Network of Kansas, Garden City Information Technology Cooperative Inc., High Plains Public Radio, and the Kansas Small Business Development Center.

Additional sponsors include Aquila, WestLink Communications, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, and Southern Kansas Telephone.

For more information, or to register to attend Telepower 2002, contact Jean Walker or Jodie Wear-Leiker at the Docking Institute, (785) 628-5952, or visit the Web site at

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