Ely, MN (population 3,724) is located in the heart of the Superior National Forest, best known as being the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Canadian border is only 17 miles away, as the crow flies. It is very rural and very dependent upon seasonal tourism.
Pat Henderson of Ely has a different idea for the economic future of the area. This year, with help from a $50,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, she has started Project Firefly to develop economic development from the inside-out as opposed to the more traditional outside-in.
The idea of Project Firefly is to shine the light of innovation upon the many inventors, machine shop operators and other innovators in the Ely area. The hope is to seed the development of a new company like Polaris, Toro and Medtronics, all of which grew from simple Minnesota roots.
Already a dozen local innovations are in the pipeline. They include large machines, fabricated accessories and even a retail product.
A local Innovators’ Group critiques each project to determine which go to CAD design and finite element analysis.
The project is an innovative one that will bear watching on the development of entrepreneurs and inventors in rural America.