Traverse City MI is a coastal municipality on the shores of Lake Michigan with some 15,000 people. Its current claim to fame is its growing community of tech startups, entrepreneurs, multiple drone companies and a local Meet-Up group of 1,000 members called TCNewTech. This well-kept secret tech hub will become part of a nationwide experiment in building a rural tech economy in July 2019.

Downtown Traverse City, Michigan


According to Andy Cole, a co-founder and executive director of Traverse City’s local nonprofit tech business incubator, 20Fathoms, “there is so much talent under the rocks in this community and nobody was trying to overturn the rocks and see what was there.”

20Fathoms is one of nine small town tech centers chosen for the Rural Innovation Initiative, a project of the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) that was founded by Matt Dunne, a former head of community affairs for Google, and funded from a seed grant by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hofmann.

Dunne said, “We’re trying to take advantage of the long-time promise of the Internet that it shouldn’t matter where you live, that you should be able to succeed in the digital economy from anywhere.”

Dunne’s “anywhere” places are “micropolitan” cities with populations between 10,000 – 50,000 people that could be catalysts for jobs and startups in rural communities. These “anywhere, micropolitan” cities could create reasonable opportunities for individuals “…to bring their talent, skills, connections and capital to smaller towns.”

Here are the nine small-town tech centers chosen for the Rural Innovation Initiative:

Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Emporia, Kansas

Grinnell, Iowa

Independence, Oregon

Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Pittsburg, Kansas

Red Wing, Minnesota

Wilson, North Carolina

Traverse City, Michigan

The caveats to qualify for this Rural Innovation Initiative? Each city had to have high-speed broadband, the potential for progressive development with local and/or satellite universities, nonprofits, and/or other businesses, and each city had to be located in an Opportunity Zone. PLUS, each city must raise $500,000 by the end of March 2019 in order to qualify for a grant from the US Economic Development Agency that could provide up to $750,000 in extra funding.


So how do you as a real estate agent/broker living and working in one of these small-town, rural tech hub centers maximize potential opportunities for your business via this Rural Innovation Initiative? You can help raise that $500,000 to qualify your micropolitan city for additional funding. You can help your micropolitan community become a catalyst for jobs and startups. You can help your local micropolitan community become home to talented, skilled, connected people who can generate incoming capital to your local rural small town. You can help provide the flipside of the rural brain drain by helping your community raise the needed money to qualify for additional funding.

And, guess what will likely come of your above efforts? You can become the local go-to agent/broker for all the new and returning people attracted by the efforts of this Rural Innovation Initiative as they make your micropolitan town their home.




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