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Rise in Tech Companies in Brainerd Area Due to Broadband

Brainerd Dispatch

We talked with Sheila Haverkamp who is the Executive Director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation about how a private-public parternership over 13 years ago has created a fiber optic network that is attracting new people and new businesses to the Brainerd Area. 

February 8, 2017

Entrepreneurs find a technology-friendly home in the Brainerd Lakes Area

CROSSLAKE, Minn. – Developing an automated video system to entertain Alzheimer’s patients is more personal than professional for Crosslake’s Brent Backhaus but the process would’ve been much more difficult without access to a local broadband Internet connection.

Backhaus, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering graduate and a pioneer of teleradiology and telemedicine, is close to launching Living Window, an automated system for Alzheimer’s patients to enjoy personal videos. His father-in-law has Alzheimer’s, and Backhaus noticed that he was engaged when watching personal videos. So he went to work developing a product to make it easy for patients to turn on the TV and launch a playlist of YouTube videos that are created by family members online. The TV is decorated like a window, giving the Alzheimer’s patients the feeling that they’re looking through a window at familiar people, he said.

Living Window ( is still in the testing phase but Backhaus credits the area’s reliable high-speed Internet service for allowing him to develop the system from his Crosslake home. “The reliability and speed has been exceptional,” he said. “That part of the technology is better than anywhere else I’ve worked. Throw the Cloud into the equation and the area’s capabilities become as good as any data center I’ve ever used.”

Backhaus is part of a growing number of entrepreneurs in the Brainerd Lakes Area because of high-speed Internet through a fiber optic network, which is available in few other rural Minnesota markets. Homegrown entrepreneurs are taking advantage of it but the area also is attracting others from outside the market for the same reason, said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC).

“The area’s high-speed Internet service plays a critical role in the decision-making process of many entrepreneurs considering markets in which to start a technology-related business,” she said. “For the last decade, our fiber optic network has been an important factor in helping start-up companies grow and succeed here. And now we’re getting noticed from others throughout the state.”

Ben Gibbs is another successful entrepreneur who owns online businesses that require high-speed Internet. The founder and owner of Crosslake Sales, Gibbs moved his family to the Crosslake area in 2003. While cell phone coverage was spotty at the time, “we had better Internet service here than we did in the Twin Cities,” he said. “We needed high-speed Internet when we started the business, and we knew Crosslake had it, so it made our decision easy.”

Crosslake Sales specializes in liquidating bicycles and bicycle components and accessories. Gibbs buys and sells products from around the world. He also has two other sporting goods-related companies to complement his online businesses.

Jim Mayne was in the same boat in 2000 when he moved to Deerwood from the Twin Cities to start Deerwood Technologies. Offering technical services requires reliable and fast Internet service, he said, which allows him and his five technicians to easily connect with customers. The company helps companies move their business systems to the Cloud, manages computer security services and provides network and server support. 

“We don’t require the bandwidth of high-speed Internet here because we don’t host client data or systems on the premises,” Mayne said. “What we need is reliability. The infrastructure is a big, big plus here. If we didn’t have it, we’d probably be located somewhere else. We are every bit as dependent on the infrastructure – you HAVE to be connected.”

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.