Sen. Tina Smith spent Saturday in Detroit Lakes as she toured the Boys and Girls Club and downtown businesses on Washington Avenue.

Her visit through northwest Minnesota on Saturday, May 8, was part of two-day tour where Smith highlighted the benefits of expanded broadband services, improving rural economic development and how enhance rural health care services. She also created a bi-partisan rural development working group in U.S. Senate with lawmakers from Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin to bring the stories from rural areas to Washington D.C. and use them to craft legislation to help support those communities.

"We can share best practices and share things that are working and then use that as fodder for legislation to help support these efforts," said Smith.

She also highlighted the importance of available broadband in rural areas specifically.

"Broadband is the basic infrastructure of the 21st century," said Smith. "If you don't have broadband, you can't learn, you can't get your health care, you can't do your job, really nothing works … we should have a national goal that everyone in this country is connected to broadband, no matter who you are, or where you live."

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Smith's Detroit Lakes tour began with a guided tour of the Boys and Girls Club building in Detroit Lakes. The club staff told the visiting senator about the importance of the club during the pandemic, which provided 62,000 curbside meals and allowed children without internet access to attend virtual classes from their socially distant gymnasium. Also, during her tour, Ethan Mattson, recreation coordinator for the club, showed off the club's new hydroponic gardening system that teaches children the finer points of gardening and agriculture.

Ethan Mattson, left, recreation coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, shows Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., the club's new hydroponic gardening system during a tour of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes on May 8, 2021. Her visit through northwest Minnesota was part of two-day tour where Smith highlighted the benefits of expanded broadband services, improving rural economic development and how enhance rural health care services. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Ethan Mattson, left, recreation coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, shows Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., the club's new hydroponic gardening system during a tour of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes on May 8, 2021. Her visit through northwest Minnesota was part of two-day tour where Smith highlighted the benefits of expanded broadband services, improving rural economic development and how enhance rural health care services. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"It's great to be here today at the Boys and Girls Club here in DL," said Smith. "This is a great example of a community coming together, and meeting needs in community, and I'm thinking about the work that I want to continue to do in Washington to support afterschool programs that are working on social, and emotional, development and supporting programs like Boys and Girls Club."

She also emphasized the importance of wanting to connect the club's work to different career pathways so kids can begin to gain experience in a potential future career field.

Patrick Petermann, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, said the visit was "extremely important" to showcase the programs, and facilities, offered by the club.

"I know she supports youth jobs and so those are things we have to get better at and we want to do more of," said Petermann. "We were happy to have her here today."

Patrick Petermann, right, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, gives a guided tour to Sen. Tina Smith, center, D-Minn., during a tour of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes on May 8, 2021. Her visit through northwest Minnesota was part of two-day tour where Smith highlighted the benefits of expanded broadband services, improving rural economic development and how enhance rural health care services. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Patrick Petermann, right, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, gives a guided tour to Sen. Tina Smith, center, D-Minn., during a tour of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes on May 8, 2021. Her visit through northwest Minnesota was part of two-day tour where Smith highlighted the benefits of expanded broadband services, improving rural economic development and how enhance rural health care services. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

After visiting the Boys and Girls Club, Smith headed to Veteran's Memorial Plaza to meet members of the city government and regional chamber of commerce. The group then headed down Washington Avenue to visit with business owners and residents.

The senator stopped at the Manna Food Co-op for a short tour of their new building, which features locally sourced food from around the region for their community-based grocery.

The two-day listening tour with community leaders was important, she said, because it informs her on how she can be more useful in Washington, D.C., to help cities like Detroit Lakes and others continue to grow as economies begin to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former President Donald Trump won Becker County by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in the 2020 election and challenger Michelle Fischbach unseated 30-year-incumbant-DFLer Collin Peterson in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District by almost 14 percentage points in the same election. But, Smith said, listening and learning from these communities all the time, not just in election years, is a way to win some of the area's voters back into the DFL column going forward.

"The problem is that too many politicians come into towns like Detroit Lakes and other places and want to tell everybody, instead wanting to listen, and learn," said Smith. "Today, I learned about the great strategies that this community has been using to revitalize its main street and how that is about creating a sense of place and creating opportunities for the community. And I learned about how there is a real shortage of workers to fill the jobs that are being created here and how in order to address that you have to figure out how to do better career, and technical, training, but you also have to make sure there are places for those people to live."

Smith continued: "That helps me to be doing my job in Washington and thinking about what we need to do to support what Detroit Lakes is doing. I think if more people did that, we'd be better off. And, that's not a Democratic idea, or a Republican idea, that's just a good government idea."