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EDC receives rural tech grant to host series of ‘hackfests’

WILLMAR — Over the next couple of years, Kandiyohi County will play host to a series of hackfests aimed at bringing the information technology crowd to town to mingle, swap ideas and gain exposure to what the community has to offer.

The long-term payoff could be an increased ability to attract and retain this group of workers, according to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which is partnering with the Blandin Foundation to undertake the project.

The initiative received the go-ahead recently from the EDC’s joint operating board.

It will involve three events over the next two years, said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Economic Development Commission.

“They’re events intended to bring IT people together,” she said.

One of them will probably be a hackathon that gives programmers an opportunity to generate ideas and develop apps that meet a local need. Another might focus on social gaming.

The overall goal is to help foster an environment that makes Kandiyohi County attractive to people in the information technology industry, Spaulding said.

Developing the county’s capacity for jobs related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship is a priority for the Economic Development Commission, she said. “We want that continued effort.”

These jobs tend to pay well and help promote overall economic vitality, said Spaulding and Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission. They also offer an opportunity for rural communities to attract people who can work anywhere they choose, as long as broadband and other communication technology is available.

The grant from the Blandin Foundation is for $20,000, plus a $7,500 match that must be raised locally. Spaulding said regional partners also will be sought who can help plan and organize the events.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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