Preparing Rural Communities for the Future

Bowling Green, KY. (June 17, 2019) – If you’ve spent any time around a Connected Nation (CN) employee, you’ve most likely heard us talk about access, adoption, and use (AAU). We use these terms to describe the various elements of broadband and technology in communities. Access is as simple as whether or not you have access to broadband and technology; adoption is whether you subscribe; and use refers to how it’s utilized.

It’s really easy for anyone discussing broadband in rural America to get completely tied up in discussions about fiber, rights of way, and spectrum (access related issues). However, if no one is subscribing to these services or available technologies or knows how to use them for the benefit of themselves and the community, broadband and technology will have a mediocre impact on the economic viability of the area in the future.

I’m not diminishing the need for quality access to high-speed internet — it’s imperative. But we must also work on adoption and use. It’s the adoption and use that will be the drivers of economic development and viability.

It’s similar to electricity in that the infrastructure and electricity must be present, but if we don’t buy and use it, then it has little economic impact. Today, subscribing to high-speed internet and then understanding how to make the most of the resource is just as important as when we learned that electricity could power a refrigerator in our homes (see USDA Report: https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/case-for-rural-broadband.pdf).

How Understanding Tech Can Drive Rural Growth  

In rural America, our focus has often been on industrial manufacturing of goods and services, and the ecosystem of our communities reflects this. In many rural communities, non-operational manufacturing facilities are a common site, as are the equally empty facilities that supported these manufacturers. The local high schools have “tech” schools attached that were or are focused on teaching trade-based skills to support those industries. It was a smart way to build the local economy.

It’s still a smart way to build the economy in rural communities, but it’s time to redefine what industries our communities are supporting. Rural communities need to begin developing at an early age the skills that will prepare the new workforce for the industries of the future.

A strong push for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) learning in our schools is a great beginning. However, without a local realization of how skills in these areas directly impact the rural community, the students are less engaged with potential local possibilities, and current and future opportunities are lost.

Information technology, bio-tech, artificial intelligence, digital security, coding, etc. are quickly becoming the industries of today and the future. Jobs in these fields are some of the largest growth areas. Communities that develop workforces prepared to participate in these industries are the ones that will be relevant in the future.

Recently, Pillar Technologies and several technology leaders from across the country partnered to bring high-tech jobs to Jefferson, Iowa. Pillar’s Forge in Jefferson is designed to help the community develop what they call Software Artisans. The project works closely with local high schools and community colleges to ensure the necessary skills are being taught, while also working to offer strong salaried opportunities.

In Western Kentucky, the Technology Council of West Kentucky (TCWK) was formed by a group of organizations, businesses, and individuals to help advocate, support, and drive the development of a technology-related workforce. The region is fortunate to have a number of businesses that need professionals in technology fields, however there is not a sufficiently trained workforce to support and fill the positions. This led to the creation of the group and its partnership with K-12, local universities and colleges, and the communities it represents to help address the issue holistically.

Kalleo Technologies is one Western Kentucky company that has long struggled to fill positions. It’s responding by trying to lure back individuals who left the area after high school or college. They are targeting this demographic and letting them know that technology jobs are now available in the region—pointing out that some who left may now want to return to start families and raise their own kids in smaller towns.

“We also believe it’s really important to help high school students understand that there are tech jobs in the area and that you can have a fulfilling career here,” said John Truitt of Kalleo Technologies, who is also a member of TCWK.

How Connected Nation Can Help

Connected Nation has long seen the impact providing access, adoption, and use of broadband (high-speed internet) and its related technologies can have on communities—both rural and urban.

Connected Nation’s Digital Works program seeks to help local workforces begin developing skills for the digital economy by providing training for displaced workers in computer and digital skills. CN has worked with communities all over the country to help workers gain the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in meaningful jobs, including working from home.

At the same time, CN’s Connected Community Engagement team seeks to help rural communities engage fully in the process of developing an en

vironment that is prepared to embrace the next industrial revolution and the digitization of so many industries that have anchored rural communities for decades. Helping communities identify, develop, and embrace the opportunity for viability and prosperity through access to broadband and technology is our passion.

Connected Nation and communities all over the country know that now is the time to determine the path forward for being a viable and sustainable community in the future. The answer isn’t the same for every community. Each community needs to understand the things they do well and what they want to accomplish, and then make plans and begin the process of transforming into that. Connected Nation wants to be a partner in that process.

About the Author:  Wes Kerr is the director of Community Solutions for Connected Nation. Wes helps ensure the implementation of Technology Action Plans developed for communities through Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) and works closely with clients and stakeholders to provide solutions that will help them meet their technology goals.

 

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