Could Roanoke be a Silicon Valley?

Business Insider lists the Roanoke, Virginia area as one of twenty smaller areas of the country that could become a high tech "Silicon Valley" type of region. The factors used to create the list are instructive:

  • A high level of broadband accessibility.
  • A sizable workforce (in relative terms).
  • A vibrant local economy.
  • The presence of a small college or university.
  • The Roanoke-Blacksburg region has the best fit on the fourth item, with Virginia Tech as a powerhouse for engineering and computer science, and many other good schools like Roanoke College, Radford University, and Hollins College, along with two community colleges with strong technology programs.

    Note that the first item listed is broadband access. While the Roanoke region has moderately good availability, choice is limited and prices are high due to lack of competition. So how does one of the listed regions break out and surge ahead, given that all of them already have met the article's minimum qualifications? Here's my list:

    • Start making some investments in open access broadband infrastructure to sharply drive down the cost of broadband, especially for business, by introducing competition among service providers.
    • Put fiber in every business park, not just to the park, but to every building, and include the right amount of basic infrastructure along with the duct and fiber so that service providers can inexpensively offer high bandwidth services.
    • Adjust economic development marketing to highlight the availability of competitively priced broadband services.
    • Make sure downtown areas have some Class A office space for technology start ups, including some well-designed "starter" offices that give small start ups access to shared reception, shared meeting rooms, and shared videoconferencing services.
    • Make sure that the right mix of professional services needed by start ups are available and priced right. The name of the game today for start ups is to outsource everything possible, including reception, accounting, bookkeeping, copying and printing, graphic design, and marketing services.

    How does your region compare to this list of twenty? What would it take to get onto the list? What would it take to break out?

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