Thursday's Washington Post poses the "Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?" Cecilia Kang's article offers a reasonable comparison of two small towns, Lebanon and Rose Hill, both in southwest Virginia. Both towns have recently gotten high-speed Internet. Politicians helped Lebanon land $2.3 million in grants three years ago to lay super-fast fiber-optic cable to homes and businesses. 92 miles away, Rose Hill got $700K of government money two years ago for similar broadband infrastructure.
The results: Lebanon hit the employer jackpot, with Northrup Grumman and CGI creating 700 new jobs averaging $50K annual salaries. (Think Eagle Creek and then some.) Rose Hill has seen a "handful" of new jobs but no big influx of employers.
The difference: population and education. Both towns are "hamlets" from the Washington Post perspective, but from the South Dakota urban development perspective, Lebanon has a whopping 3272 residents (that's like Howard and Flandreau put together), while Rose Hill is less than a fourth that size at 714 (that's Colman and lots of company). A bigger workforce means bigger recruiting potential.
But more crucial, I'd argue, are the education levels of those workforces. Kang notes that 71% of Lebanon's residents have high school diplomas. Only 29% of Rose Hill's residents have that august piece of paper. Plus, when the broadband lines came to town, Lebanon set up a training center to help people get their GEDs and some IT skills that employers would look for.
Rose Hill is still seeing some benefits: one grant-writer can work from home; the NAPA guy uses online shopping to get better prices on parts for his customers. But if you want to supercharge your local economy, you've got to couple high-tech with high-quality education.
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