Community development

Good news for rural areas

This news item comes from Tom Christoffel's excellent Regional Community News email list. A study done in the San Diego metro area shows that 56% of residents are thinking about moving away from the overcrowded and expensive city. According to the article, that is up from from 39% just three years ago.

For rural communities that have a good strategy for land use, affordable broadband, and a "traditional" downtown area that is bright and clean, this kind of discontent is an incredible marketing opportunity. The number one complaint from those interviewed was the difficulty of getting around, especially the morning and afternoon commute.

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Nine Questions for Communities

I've added my keynote talk to the Ohio Community Development Corporation technology conference to the Library. This free paper looks at communities through the lens of broadband and the global Knowledge Economy. The paper is designed to give community leaders and decision makers an overview of technology and broadband without being overly technical.

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Ohio Community Development, Technology Conference

I am at the Ohio Community Development, Innovation, & Technology Conference in Columbus, Ohio, and I'll be posting highlights from the meeting for the next day or so. The conference is sponsored by the Ohio Community Development Corporation Association.

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Loma Linda, California requires broadband infrastructure

Loma Linda, California, a community of 20,000 people, may be the first town in the country to require broadband infrastructure in new housing.

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This Little Light of Ours

Frank Maguire is the cofounder of FedEx, and this article reports on a recent speech he gave about passion, success, and the determination to make things work. Among his comments was this statement.

"There's a light in each one of you and it's bigger than you ever thought and it's on your side," he said. "Turn on your light. You can do it, regardless of your circumstances."

Anti-community legislative roundup

WiFi Net News has a long but informative roundup of all the anti-community legislation in process around the country. While it appears some legislators are resisting teh lobbyist-led push to keep communities at the mercy of the incumbents, it appears that the Philadelphia project (where the City wanted to do a citywide WiFi effort) has motivated the telcos and cable companies to get busy to protect their marketplace monopolies.

While most of the news sites are calling this "anti-muni" legislation, I'm deliberately calling it something else--"antic-community" legislation, because I think that's a better term.

This is an out and out assault on the rights of communities to control their economic future. If the incumbents were open and honest about their plans and were offering good and affordable services, none of these community projects would be underway. But this is an issue of community survival. When Hong Kong is running fiber past a million homes, are communities in the U.S. supposed to sit back and be content with either twenty year old copper technology (DSL, cable modems) or nothing at all?

Affordable broadband is the economic lifeblood of communities. Without affordable broadband, the small businesses of America (remember that small businesses create 75-90% of new jobs) cannot compete in the global economy. While the incumbents are protecting marketshare, communities are becoming increasingly less competitive from and economic development perspective.

Finally, I think communities ought to be regarding their investments like they manage roads, and not like water and sewer. My first choice for communities is to build digital roads and let the private sector create jobs, deliver services, and use those roads to create prosperity in the community.

Creating a new municipal monopoly (i.e. the way water, sewer, and electric is handled) is my second choice. In either case, communities should have the right to make those choices.

Great Plains communities are starting to "get it"

Run, don't walk, to the nearest store and pick up a copy of USA Today. If you live in a rural community and are involved with economic and community development issues, you need to read the cover story today.

Small towns in the Great Plains are finally starting to give up "elephant hunting" and instead are using an "economic gardening" strategy. This is exactly what I have been saying in our Knowledge Economy Roadshow for the past several years.

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ConnectMaine set ambitious and sensible goals

A quote from the Governor of Maine's State of the State address:

...Tonight I am announcing 'Connect Maine,' a broad and aggressive telecommunications strategy for this state. Connect Maine will give nearly every Mainer the opportunity to plug into the global economy from their community. It will ensure that 90 percent of Maine communities have broadband access by 2010; 100 percent of Maine communities have quality wireless service by 2008; and Maine's education system has the technology infrastructure that leads the nation.

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St. Paul to look for the common good

The City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota has approved a study to consider the feasibility of citywide wireless broadband.

The three month study will look for "the common good" that might be gained from community-managed telecom infrastructure. This is, as far as I know, the first time the common good has been explicity acknowledged in this kind of study. It has been implicitly part of many other community telecom projects, but it's about time we started this particular conversation in more earnest.

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Rio Rancho, NM provides a model for citywide wireless

Here is an excellent article full of details about the citywide wireless project in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Rio Rancho is a fast-growing suburb of Albequerque. Here is the quote that shows that Rio Rancho leaders "get it."

"We see it as an economic development tool—today's business needs good quality access, Palenick said [the city administrator].

The coffeehouse as office space

Glenn Reynolds, better know as Instapundit, has an article on Tech Central Station about the emerging trend of using public WiFi hotspots as business meeting places.

I wrote about this a while back, but Reynolds makes some interesting points, including this one about the effect on the real estate market:

County Administrator: Broadband is necessary

In the Northern Neck of Virginia, broadband is being viewed (appropriately) as a critical economic development issue.

New group forms around fiber to the home

from a mailing list....


With the number of communities linked with fiber-to-the-home rapidly growing, a new coalition has been formed to educate consumers about the benefits of optical access networks. Max R. Kipfer, founder and president of Fiber Optic Communities of the United States (FOCUS), said the group would "unite fiber-optic communities from urban, rural, and suburban settings with the aim of propelling America into the next generation of communication."

During a press briefing in Washington, FOCUS General Counsel Lawrence Freedman said one of the group's missions would be to promote the sharing of information and dissemination of strategies among communities seeking to connect homes and businesses with fiber-optic networks. "All of the best technology will be of no use if there's not the transactional structure and operative environment" that's needed, he said.

The press briefing featured presentations on fiber-optic deployments from representatives of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a government effort to build a fiber-optic network covering 14 towns in Utah; Jackson (Tenn.) Energy Authority, which has built a fiber-optic network; and Brambleton Group LLC, which is installing fiber optics in its development in Loudoun County, Va.

Link Hoewing, assistant vice president at Verizon Communications, Inc., highlighted his company's plans to install fiber to the home in 100 central offices in nine states, passing 1 million homes, by year-end, and to pass 3 million by the end of 2005. Verizon has been expediting its deployment after receiving favorable regulatory decisions on fiber-related issues, he added.

Mike Render, president of Render Vanderslice and Associates, said fiber-to-the-home deployments had "taken off in the last six months," in large part due to Verizon but also due to several new "wired communities." There are now 217 communities in the U.S.

RTC Conference: Wilhelm keynote

I'm at the Rural Telecommunications Congress 8th Annual Conference.

Dr. Tony Wilhelm is the Director of TOP (Technologies Opportunities Program) at the Department of Commerce.

Wilhelm is emphasizing the need to tie technology investments to identified community needs. TOP does not fund infrastructure, it funds applications that use infrastructure to improve communities.

Demand for broadband is outstripping available funds. Demand exists because every facet of communities--first responders, businesses, citizens, local government--have a need for broadband.

Small businesses are using virtual business incubators, some funded by TOP, to help these businesses expand into international markets.

TOP priorities include economic development. Special emphasis this year is on broadband wireless technologies. Wireless projects are growing very rapidly. The third priority is to support faith-based initiatives. Some faith-based projects have included entrepreneurship development, sustainable economic development, and business ecommerce training.

TOP looks for projects that use technology creatively to help communities prosper. A major stumbling block for rural communities is lack of affordable broadband service. The Sevier River project in Utah has dramatically increased available water by providing more timely information to water managers. TOP looks for "infomation" projects that don't just automate (replacing people with technology). Infomation projects go beyond automation to provide leaders and decisionmakers with better tools to manage information and to solve problems.

Technology investments have created about half the productivity gains in the U.S. in recent years.

Successful TOP projects typically include:

  • Organizational capacity and leadership
  • Robust partnerships
  • Sustainability after the funding ends

Best predictor of success is an organization's ability to integrate new ideas and concepts--organizational maturity, not size. Leadership, leadership, leadership--solid principles and clear goals, good use of talented people, solid values clearly articulated with a willingness to take risks.

How work gets done: Social networks in practice

The Hidden Power of Social Networks (by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker) is the Book of the Month.

In the Manufacturing Economy (1850 to 1950), where you were located mattered because stuff was heavy. Being near an airport, a highway, or a river was a key part of an economic development strategy. In the Information Economy (1950 to 2000), what you had mattered. What kind of technology you had--computers, networking equipment--often created a competitive edge, especially in the last ten years of that era.

Is your community open for business?

I visit a lot of rural communities. Most of them are trying to chart a path for themselves in the Knowledge Economy. But there is still a lot of stovepipe thinking going on. Economic developers are rarely talking to town planners. Town planners are rarely talking to business people. Hardly anyone is talking to work at home businesspeople.

No one cares about broadband. Let me repeat that. Businesspeople that are engaged in the new economy don't care about broadband. What they care about is being able to meet their customers needs and expectations. Broadband is needed to do that, but broadband is not really an issue for them--what they are able to do with it is an issue.

What I'm trying to say is that broadband is simply one part of a bigger picture for communities, and the bigger picture, for the entrepreneurial, microenterprise businessperson (remember that small businesses are creating 75% of new jobs), is that they need a bunch of amenities and services in a community to be able to meet their customer needs and expectations. It's never just one thing (like broadband).

What are some of those things? Here's my list:

  • Affordable,world class business office space -- Some of you are already thinking, "We've got our incubator." I am thinking about incubators, but too many that I visit are heavy on the industrial look and feel, and short on the kinds of finishing details that are not always expensive but that project, "We're doing business here." Many communities, instead of putting slab-steel siding buildings far out of town in a former industrial park, would be much better off rehabbing empty buildings on Main Street, like they did in Norton, Virginia, where they rehabbed a 1920s era hotel, got tax credits to do so, won awards for excellence, and are filling the space faster than they can finish the next floor.
  • Once you get some businesses downtown, you need a great coffee shop, like the one in Franklin, Pennsylvania started by someone who just moved back to their hometown after ten years in California. Coffee shops with great coffee, an upscale ambiance, and a private meeting room are a key requirement of work at home businesspeople, who need a place to meet clients, have a light lunch, or just "get out of the office" to do some work.

Smart Mobs--Book of the Month

Howard Rheingold is one of the best observers and commentators on how technology is affecting us. Not from a technical or "geek" perspective--Rheingold is interested in what is happening in our social, civic, and business relationships.

This book is easy to read; you can dive into in bits and pieces, and is meticulously researched and referenced. It's our pick for Book of the Month.

Southwest Regional Spaceport to host X Prize Cup

The Southwest Regional Spaceport in New Mexico has been chosen to host the two week long X Cup competition. The X Cup is a $10 million prize that will given to the team that successfully launches a suborbital spacecraft twice in two weeks.

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A Model Technology Council

The Redwood Technology Council may well be the best example of a successful Tech Council in the United States. The work that the RTC is doing gives me hope that it is possible to develop, run, and sustain a regional tech council. Located in the Eureka/Arcata area of northern California, the RTC is trying to overcome rural isolation, create jobs, and get more fiber and broadband options into the region.

I had the privilege of giving some workshops at their annual Tech Expo, and while I was visiting I learned a lot about their activities. The RTC's most significant achievement was to break a permitting logjam that had prevented the phone company from bringing fiber to the region. The Tech Expo, a two day technology fair that showcases the products and services of local firms, attracts thousands, and is especially notable because they offer workshops and seminars to the public throughout the event. And it's practical, useful stuff, like how to use Photoshop, which was jammed. The number and variety of booths was terrific, and I found two vendors that had products I had never seen and am likely to buy.

In fact, the RTC is doing many of the things that community networks do, and the group is well-positioned to do much more.

U.S. is falling behind in science education

A widely covered story in the New York Times (registration required) talks about how the U.S. has already lost its dominance in science and engineering research, publishing, and patents.

Like it or not, K12 education is becoming an economic development issue. What keeps coming up over and over again in business attraction and retention (especially in rural areas) is workforce development and the need for workers with appropriate Knowledge Economy skills.


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