Houston - Homegrown Tools

Houston, MN

Updated: 2022

The Houston public school system capitalizes on an opportunity to partner with a private sector entity to develop an online learning curriculum.

Population2020 984
Median Household Income2020$43,958
Poverty Rate 202019.8%
Proximity to Urban Center 138 miles to St. Paul, Minn.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 16 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2002-2006
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Houston, 2022

In Houston, the county seat of Houston County, almost every household – even in the most remote rural parts of the county – has a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. “I live at the end of a 1.5-mile long driveway in rural Minnesota, and I have a high-speed Internet connection to communicate with folks in town,” said Kevin Kelleher, a former Houston County commissioner. Widespread use of broadband technology in Houston came about somewhat indirectly, through an effort to address declining enrollment in local public schools. By 2004 Houston had launched one of the largest online learning curricula in the state and, in the process, had brought computers and the Internet to homes throughout the community. The result of Houston’s strategy is a fully wired community and a technologically proficient workforce, which are prominent assets for this small town’s economic development prospects.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Look for creative ways to glean public goods from public-private partnerships. The opportunity for Houston to become a wired community came indirectly – from the needs of public school students and the initiative and innovation of the district’s superintendent. The initiative to link rural residents to the school system also motivated other partners (the Mayo Clinic and the local telephone cooperative) to bring their resources to benefit the public good. Civic leaders should look for creative opportunities to leverage private market investments for public benefit.


Visionary leadership is critical to a town’s success. Houston’s Superintendent Kim Ross is a visionary local leader. “The question we were asking as a school is how can we move into the future and be relevant in education?” Ross said. Looking forward and seeing the potential growth in online learning, Houston was willing to risk charting a new course in education. As a result the city school district has enhanced the quality of the education it offers and increased the funds the town can spend on its students. Town leaders should not hesitate to explore technological advances and determine ways their towns could use technological progress for the public’s benefit.