BEMIDJI -- Digital platforms in the age of the coronavirus pandemic have allowed workers at businesses from across the globe to set up shop wherever they call home.

On Monday, a new local program was launched to encourage workers to make their home in Bemidji.

The initiative, titled 218 Relocate, is a relocation incentive program created by Greater Bemidji Economic Development inviting professionals who telecommute to the area. According to the organization's Assistant Director Erin Echternach, the concept was based on the increase of people working from home last year.

"In 2020, Greater Bemidji started identifying that teleworking was becoming more popular," Echternach said. "Because of the pandemic, it was becoming more necessary to adapt to a telecommuting lifestyle."

After having dialogue with telecommuters in the summer and fall months, Greater Bemidji decided in December that a campaign was necessary to inform teleworkers about the local internet infrastructure.

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"It's to make sure they understand that Bemidji is not only a great place to live, but an amazing place to work," Echternach said. "The difference between this relocation campaign and others in Minnesota is it's really capitalizing on the fiber optic, gigabit internet service that we have. We want people to understand that this is an amazing place to work because of the amazing internet service we have available."

The program's launch comes nearly five months after Beltrami County was recognized by Gov. Tim Walz as a telecommuter-friendly community. The communities are labeled as those that coordinate and partner with broadband providers, realtors, economic development professionals and other stakeholders to promote telecommuting options.

Additionally, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, more than 98.78% of Beltrami County has access to internet speeds of up to a gigabit per second.

As part of the program, telecommuters who apply and meet the eligibility criteria will receive:

  • Up to $2,500 in reimbursed moving expenses and/or qualifying telecommuter expenses not already covered by the employer or company, including internet services.
  • A one year membership at the LaunchPad, an entrepreneurship support program with co-working space at the Mayflower Building in downtown Bemidji, estimated at $1,500 in value.
  • Teleworking support and tools through a program called Effective Remote Work for digital employees.

The package will also include access to the newly launched Community Concierge Program, which has been established to engage and welcome newcomers to the area.

"This is so needed," Echternach also stated in a press release about the concierge program. "Those of us that live here know it's a wonderful place to call home. Now we can be mindful of how we welcome others into this community and we can do that collectively with all of these amazing advocates of Bemidji."

The pilot phase of 218 Relocate is being funded by the George W. Neilson Foundation. For more information, visit www.218relocate.com.