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Leaders for hire: Land O'Lakes, Inc. unveils American Connection Corps

Program will support 50 Fellows in rural and urban communities across America working to improve broadband connectivity and digital inclusion

Leaders for hire: Land O'Lakes, Inc. unveils American Connection Corps

https://www.landolakesinc.com/Press/News/American-Connection-Corps

ARDEN HILLS, MINN., (April 27, 2021) – Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formation of a new program for leaders aimed at a boots-on-the-ground effort to boost local internet connectivity and the benefits it provides. The program, the American Connection Corps, will be led in conjunction with Lead for America (LFA) and funded through the support of Heartland Forward and 19 additional partner organizations. Applications open today for a two-year, full-time paid fellowship. Fifty Fellows will serve in local public-serving institutions in their hometowns and will be empowered to serve as community leaders focused specifically on connectivity.

“Millions of families are operating day-to-day with a lack of basic infrastructure -- adequate broadband access -- that has become a necessity in today’s world and, frankly, a fundamental right. Action cannot wait,” said Beth Ford, Land O’Lakes, Inc. president and chief executive officer. “Through our years-long work on broadband advocacy and conversations with our farmers, our customers and so many others, we’ve seen and heard firsthand how critical digital infrastructure is to the success of communities and businesses across America. From everyday life to prospering in a global economy, investing and focusing on this issue now will pay dividends.”

Through their proven Homecomers model, LFA will run the American Connection Corps as a separate track under their broad Fellows program. LFA will select, train and place leaders in two-year, full-time paid fellowships with local institutions (e.g. local governments, nonprofits, community foundations) to tackle tough challenges facing the community, strengthen their hometown's civic infrastructure and join a new generation of transformational community leaders.

"Our work has shown that we can change the narrative that success means leaving home for good, and instead that leaders can create meaningful impact in their hometowns," commented Benya Kraus, co-founder of LFA.

"We are excited to put true grassroots – person-to-person outreach -- in communities across the heartland to connect their residents to high-speed internet and ensure everyone can enjoy full access to essential online services,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer for Heartland Forward, a leading partner on the American Connection Corps initiative.

Ford continued, “This program would not be happening without the support of organizations joining with us; I’m so grateful to these partners who also recognize that together, we can take bold steps now to help solve these challenges, to help create the future and to benefit us all in our ever-connected world.”

The American Connection Corps is launching with funding from 20 partner organizations, including: Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.

Individuals interested in applying for the program are encouraged to visit Lead for America’s website and select the American Connection Corps track. The deadline to apply is May 15, 2021. The inaugural class of Fellows will be announced in early June 2021.

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What partner organizations are saying about the American Connection Corps:

CoBank
“As a member of the American Connection Project and a leader in rural infrastructure financing, CoBank has long advocated for more accessible broadband throughout our nation’s rural communities,” said Brian Cavey, senior vice president of corporate communications and government affairs, CoBank. “The pandemic has only strengthened our belief that high speed broadband access has the potential to create a new era of economic prosperity for rural America, providing access to education, healthcare, technology and jobs. We are delighted to be part of this innovative new project and look forward to the many successes of the American Connection Corps Fellows.”

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Tractor Supply Company
“As the nation’s largest retailer for the Out Here lifestyle, Tractor Supply is committed to supporting vibrant rural communities, which are the backbone of our nation. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clearer than ever before how essential broadband connectivity is for business, healthcare and school, but the digital divide continues to grow as rural areas are left without access to high-speed internet. To help combat this, we are excited to be sponsoring the American Connection Corps’ efforts to increase digital access and inclusion especially in our home state of Tennessee. We look forward to seeing the progress the ACC Fellows will make for people living Out Here,” said Mary Winn Pilkington, Tractor Supply’s Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Public Relations and President of the Tractor Supply Company Foundation. 

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Microsoft
“We are glad to build on our partnership with Land O’Lakes and foster digital inclusion in the rural United States,” said Shelley McKinley, Microsoft Vice President of Technology and Corporate Responsibility. “By working at the grassroots level to connect people to broadband and provide technology training, we can help digitally transform communities and help them thrive in the 21st century economy.”

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Mayo Clinic
“As a founding supporter of the American Connection Corps, Mayo Clinic is proud to partner with organizations across the country to not only enhance digital connectivity to areas that need it most, but also embrace digital tools and technology to improve the health of our communities and bolster local economies. We are excited to see this program support leaders and empower communities in Minnesota. ”
-Mary Jo Williamson
Vice Chair, Mayo Clinic Administration

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Scoular
From Scoular CEO Paul Maass: “American Connection Corps will drive meaningful impact on underserved communities by harnessing the power of a diverse group transformational leaders supported by organizations dedicated to creating a more inclusive digital world. As an agricultural company rooted in rural America, Scoular is delighted to support this effort and looks forward to the many possibilities these leaders will create for their communities.”

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CHS
"Access to broadband is essential for the success of farmers, ranchers, cooperatives and rural communities. Living in a rural area should not limit opportunities for connectivity and access to data and digital infrastructure that help build ag businesses and enrich lives," said Jay Debertin, president and CEO of CHS. "We're proud to support the American Connection Corps to improve internet accessibility to help strengthen rural communities."

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Zoetis
“When we look at the future of Animal Health we see the advancements that technology can bring to agriculture, including how we raise and care for our livestock,” says Tim Bettington, Executive Vice President and President of U.S. Operations at Zoetis. “Bringing infrastructure like broadband access to our rural communities is one important step in bridging the digital divide that currently exists in rural America. The American Connections Corp Fellows will address another important step in the solution, encourage adoption of high-speed internet and the opportunities it can bring to the health of their communities.”

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Tillamook
 “As a farmer-owned co-op founded in the rural town of Tillamook, Oregon, we’ve seen firsthand that digital equity is critical to ensuring farmers, ranchers, their families and all members of rural communities have access to information, tools and markets they need to thrive,” said Paul Snyder, Executive Vice President of Stewardship, Tillamook County Creamery Association. “Our farmer-owners are thrilled to fund two American Connection Corps Fellows and help build stronger, more connected communities in Oregon and beyond.”

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American Farm Bureau Federation
“The American Farm Bureau is excited to serve as a partner in this program, that empowers people return to their rural communities to help bridge the digital divide. Broadband is essential to strengthening our rural economies and helping agriculture achieve bold sustainability goals. We have seen great strides in initiatives and investments over the years, and now it’s time to make those connections at the local level.”
-AFBF President Zippy Duvall

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Midwest Dairy
“Access to connectivity and a strong digital infrastructure is essential to Midwest dairy farmers as they rely on the latest technology to provide consumers with the dairy foods they love while taking care for the planet,” says Molly Pelzer, CEO of Midwest Dairy. “We are excited to invest in this program and look forward to helping to recruit leaders for the dairy community to help close the digital divide by working with local partners, identifying resources and training to increase broadband access which is critical to a strong future for the dairy industry.”

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Purdue University
“The ACC program will enable us to help elected leaders in our region understand the importance of broadband development, access, and affordability, and to equip our local businesses to thrive in an increasingly digital world,” said Alex Brown and Ryan Keller at THRIVE Indiana, an American Connection corps host partner through the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

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Partners for Education
“Our partnership with American Connection Corps will further augment Kentucky’s recent investment in rural broadband by putting our own leaders at the forefront of not only the discussion but the planning and implementation of what successful internet coverage looks like well into the future,” said Dreama Gentry, Executive Director of PFE. “There is no one better to embed in this work than those people who have experienced the negative impacts that a lack of connectivity can cause. They know the region and the people personally. Their willingness to serve with ACC in this way is already a demonstration of commitment. Partners for Education at Berea College has been working in Kentucky’s Appalachian counties to improve educational outcomes for students since 1995. Broadband, or the lack of broadband, deeply affects our work and the success of our students.”

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CentraCare
“CentraCare is proud to be a partner in the American Connection Corps initiative. Because we are committed to rural health care, we’ve seen first-hand that inequity in broadband Internet access means that thousands of Minnesotans don’t receive certain types of needed care – such as telehealth and virtual visits. This meaningful project would make it much easier to receive care for people in rural Minnesota who need it most. But the initiative’s importance extends far beyond healthcare. Affordable high-speed Internet is also important across all sectors, including commercial business and education.  Our rural communities will only thrive if the Internet is at their fingertips.”
-Ken Holmen, MD
President and CEO, CentraCare

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Common Sense Media
James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder, Common Sense: "Common Sense has long advocated for universal affordable access to broadband internet for students, teachers, and families, and for the important digital citizenship and digital inclusion resources that everyone needs to make the most of modern technology.  We are excited to join with our partners in the American Connection Project to develop these critical resources in towns all across America and to work together to close the digital divide in every home and business in America for good."

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University of Illinois Extension
“The American Connection Corps program brings together many of the issues Extension is working on in Illinois,” said Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and director of University of Illinois Extension. “Broadband is critical infrastructure for the health and wellbeing of people, families, businesses, communities, the ag sector, and the environment. We look forward to working with and supporting ACP fellows in Illinois.”

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Media Contact: Natalie Long; NLong@landolakes.com


About Land O’Lakes Inc.
Land O'Lakes, Inc., one of America's premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2020 annual sales of $14 billion, Land O'Lakes is one of the nation's largest cooperatives, ranking 232 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 99 years of operation, Land O'Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands and businesses in agriculture and food production including Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra, LLC. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O'Lakes, Inc. corporate headquarters are located in Arden Hills, Minn.



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