Brainerd Area’s High-Speed Internet Connection Makes Area Attractive to Companies Expanding with Satellite Offices
According to a press release from Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Center, when it comes to selling rare and unique coins, few companies do it better than GovMint.com.
For the last eight years, employees in GovMint.com’s Crosslake office have steadily increased sales, to the point of doubling revenue over the last five years, said Jim Martin, director of sales. Headquartered in Burnsville, GovMint.com is one of the largest sellers of collectible coins, paper currency and related items in the country. The company employees more than 300 people.
GovMint.com’s Crosslake office has employed as many as 25 people and generates a relatively small percentage of sales for the company but it serves as an example of why a growing number of companies are looking at the Brainerd Lakes Area as a legitimate place to expand.
Two of the primary reasons why GovMint.com chose to add an office in Crosslake were the workforce and the broadband Internet service, Martin said. GovMint.com hires battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can “close the deal.” A former Realtor in Crosslake himself, Martin knows the area has excellent sales people who fit the bill.
Equally important is the area’s fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company’s giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.
High-speed Internet service made its debut 12 years ago in the Brainerd Lakes Area and has been expanding throughout the area ever since, helping local companies like GovMint.com connect to critical databases within their operation, move large amounts of data and better serve their customers.
Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com’s sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.
“The system has to be reliable or Jim’s phone starts ringing,” Martin said. “The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable.”
Companies like GovMint.com have been benefiting from the local fiber optic network since a public-private partnership collaborated in 2003 to bring high-speed Internet service to the Brainerd Lakes Area. The fiber optic network now extends about 30 miles out from Brainerd.
“The fiber optic network has been invaluable to the Brainerd Lakes Area,” said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC). “We’re one of the few areas in outstate Minnesota that has a robust broadband service that gives companies the ability to move huge amounts of data online. That’s really an attractive feature for tech companies that are looking for a place to expand, like GovMint.com.”
Northern Tool + Equipment is another example. The company’s Contact Center, located in Pequot Lakes, is a technology-driven office that relies heavily on the area’s ultra-fast Internet connection. The 70 employees who work there primarily field sales calls generated from the company’s catalogue and provide support for sales and inquiries that come from the company’s website.
Two years ago, Northern Tool changed the center’s phone system to an Internet-based system, said Brent Campbell, the Contact Center manager. Upgrading to that new phone system was only possible with access to broadband. The phone system combined with high-speed Internet also makes it possible for representatives to work from home.
Founded in 1981 with its first retail store in Burnsville, Northern Tool now sells more than 40,000 tools and equipment in 97 stores throughout the country, through its catalogues and on its robust website.
“The fiber infrastructure is crucial to our operation,” said Todd Mouw, Contact Center operations manager. “We depend on the bandwidth not only for data processing capabilities but for our telephone infrastructure as well.”
Northern Tool has been in the Pequot Lakes area for 18 years, since opening a contact center in 1998 with fewer than 10 employees taking sales calls. Business through the company’s website exploded shortly after that, requiring Northern Tool to kick into massive growth mode.
Farther south, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has a service center on the east end of Brainerd that houses 160 state employees who process eligibility applications for health care programs like MinnesotaCare, assist clients and manage provider and enrollee relationships.
DHS built the center in Brainerd in 2007 after doing a thorough study of outstate markets that would be a good fit for the operation. The DHS selected Brainerd partly because of the available workforce and partly because of the area’s technological horsepower that could support the center’s complex technology needs, according to Tamara Smith, DHS director of health care eligibility and operations.
Employees process applications digitally, using the state’s massive databases and software systems like the Minnesota Eligibility Tracking System. The high-speed fiber optic network connects the center to the state’s databases, giving employees fast and reliable access to complete their work.
“Technology is critical to the team’s efforts,” Smith said. “The (fiber optic network) is critical for serving our clients and keeping in touch with one another.”