The Wall Street Journal recently published a special section on economic development with this headline: “Success stories: A look at seven places that took different approaches to economic development and came out ahead.”
The seven areas on which the newspaper focused included cities such as Kobe, Japan, and Wismar, Germany. Also included was rural Kentucky. The reason? Kentucky was chosen because the state has done groundbreaking work when it comes to providing high-speed Internet access to its rural residents.
At the start of the article, Ann Carrns wrote: “For Jeff Herron, high-speed Internet access is one of the keys to his business success. And the key to his high-speed Internet access is a local nonprofit. Mr. Herron runs a real estate and document retrieval firm in Falmouth, Ky., a rural area near the Ohio border where bad weather often makes roads impassable. The drumbeat for economic development has changed. Few jobs in a service economy can be performed without some knowledge of computers. A community that takes on a broadband initiative sends a signal to businesses that it wants to change for the better, is willing to plan for the future and is ready to use technology to make itself more competitive.
A key step is to persuade broadband providers to share information about penetration rates so accurate coverage maps can be created.
The addition of paved roads and electricity were critical factors in closing the per capita income gap between the rural South and the rest of the country in the years just before and after World War II. Roads remain important. But now we need more than roads. Deployment of broadband in this century is as critical to the future of our region as getting electricity into those rural areas was in the previous century.
The best way to grow a community is to provide its children with a quality of life that will allow them to stay there and start a business. Having access to high-speed Internet gives them that opportunity. Broadband access can be an important tool when recruiting new businesses to an area. It also can be used to improve care in hospitals and improve education.
Pete Johnson of Clarksdale is the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. He was appointed by former President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2001.