BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County was congratulated as a telecommuter-friendly community earlier this month by Gov. Tim Walz.

According to a release, these types of communities are labeled as those that coordinate and partner with broadband providers, realtors, economic development professionals, employers, employees and other stakeholders to promote the availability of telecommuting options in their region. In total, 23 communities were recognized, with Beltrami County and Cook County, as well as the cities of Bigfork, Halstad and Warren being the only northern areas listed.

The announcement comes after the Minnesota Legislature approved the Telecommuter Forward Certification process, which mandates communities adopt a model resolution that includes a statement of support for telecommuting. The aspect of telecommuting has been especially important recently as more people are working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The release states that the number of employees teleworking has jumped nearly 45% in recent months. Data shows that more than 1 million workers in the state are doing at least some work remotely, which makes up more than a third of Minnesota's labor force.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how important it is for the state to support telecommuting capabilities," Walz said in the release. "This initiative will help ensure options for remote work to expand in our state, improving the quality of life for employees and encouraging economic vitality in communities throughout Minnesota."

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"We know that more Minnesotans than ever before are telecommuting for work," said Steve Grove, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "As we help Minnesota's economy recover from the pandemic, telecommuter-friendly policies add new opportunities for civic engagement and collaboration among Minnesota's businesses, entrepreneurs and communities."

Locally, Beltrami County is served by the Bemidji headquartered Paul Bunyan Communications, as well as the Sioux Falls-based provider Midco. Additionally, some of the county is served by Garden Valley Technologies.

Last year, Beltrami County was shown to be No. 1 out of 87 counties when it came to broadband internet access, with 98.78% having access to speeds of up to a gigabit per second. During the stay-at-home order from Walz, the access was essential as Midco and Paul Bunyan Communications saw traffic increase by at least 30% during daytime hours.

Currently, government units and educational institutions are still relying on telecommunications. Since March, all of the Bemidji City Council and several of the Beltrami County board meetings have been held digitally. Additionally, this semester, just 13% of BSU classes will be held in person, with the rest being online or hy-flex courses. Northwest Technical College, meanwhile, will have 35% of its classes in person.