Economic development

Broadband use soars in the United States

There are still plenty of community leaders and elected officials who are not taking broadband seriously. Bluntly put, it's a critical economic development issue. Ignore it at your peril.

This article that summarizes recent growth in broadband use in the U.S. is a must read for economic developers. If your community is behind in broadband use compared to the general population, you have a serious problem that demands immediate and continuous attention.

Broadband everywhere?

We just rented a beach house for a week, and the contract had a list of amenities. To my surprise, broadband Internet access, a computer, and WiFi comes with what is a very moderately priced beach rental.

It's one more signal that your region, to be competitive in the global economy, needs to be working with your local hospitality, recreation, and travel businesses to make sure they understand this is what travelers want and expect.

A rural advantage for high tech businesses

An article in today's Wall Street Journal (B1) details the success of Hutchinson Technology, a company with four plants in southern Minnesota. Hutchinson manufactures most of the world's supply of the support arms used to hold the read/write head in hard drives. Most of its output is exported to Asia, where most hard drives are manufactured now.

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Muncipal WiFi a worldwide trend

An article in The Register provides a nice synopsis of the worldwide trend for municipalities to offer public WiFi. It's happening most often in the big cities first, where businesspeople congregate in public spaces more and expect Internet access.

Spokane wireless to drive economic development

The City of Spokane has rolled out a new wireless zone that covers most of the major downtown area (more than 100 square blocks). Rather than leaving the growth of WiFi entirely to the private sector, which typically leaves lots of dead zones in an urban downtown, the city mapped its own antenna sites and was able to cover the entire area with just ten antennas--a much more efficient design that provides virtually 100% coverage.

Florida pokes a hornet's nest

I've been writing for some time about the looming battle over local and state telecom taxes. As more traditional telecom services move to the Internet, the telecom taxes that localities and the state have become so fond of just disappear. I've yet to talk to an elected official who A) understands this, or B) has a plan for dealing with it.

Florida state officials have knocked a telecom tax hornet's nest off the tree, and are about to start poking it with a stick, unless someone comes to their senses.

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Mountain bikes and the Knowledge Economy

As far back as 1998, I was telling folks to pay attention to business park amenities like bike/hiking trails. I usually got blank stares. More recently, I've had a slide in most of my presentations about the importance of marketing to businesspeople who have mountain bikes strapped to the top of their cars on the weekend. I still get a lot of blank stares--not as many, but a lot of economic developers seem to have trouble relating.

This morning, the Roanoke Times has a major feature on the glacial pace of trying to develop a more coherent and connected set of hiking/biking trails around the city. The article relates that recently, a Colorado high tech company was considering relocating to Roanoke.

Did they ask about business parks and incubator buildings? No. Were they interested in water and sewer capacity? No. What they wanted to know about was the biking trails, and here are some of their questions.

  • Was there a fully interconnected trail between two major biking spots--Carvins Cove and Explore Park? (no)
  • Was there a connection from downtown to Mill Mountain biking trails? (no)

The paper notes that the company was willing to give up skiing to move to southwest Virginia, but ultimately decided to stay in Colorado.

That particular company was making a relocation decision, at least in part, based on quality of life, lifestyle options (like good biking trails), and a regional approach to recreation. Don't be tempted to think that bikers, hikers, and other small businesspeople with interests in recreation are all in their twenties. One of the leading bike trail advocates in Roanoke cheerfully admits to grey hair. In Blacksburg, the local cycling groups have large numbers of members over 40.

I find that many rural areas take their recreational amenities for granted--not only do they not market them as part of a comprehensive approach to economic development, many communities fail to fund and develop them at levels high enough to make them effective drivers of economic development.

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WiFi and warchalking as marketing

Schlotzky's, the popular deli chain with hundreds of stores across the country, has been rolling out their free WiFi offering with great success, apparently. The original plan had been to provide it only to the company-owned stores (95% of the stores are owned by franchisees), but the popularity of the WiFi offering has attracted the attention of the franchise owners, who want it for their stores as well.

Korea's Simple Vision

South Korea has announced a new initiative called Ubiquitous Korea that has a very simple vision for the country:

To transform the country into a more modern and technology-oriented society, which has been nicknamed U-Korea for Ubiquitous Korea, the government is envisioning a future that allows people to have uninterrupted access to the Internet, via fixed lines or mobile networks, any time, anywhere.

Comfort Suites--A Knowledge Economy hotel

I stayed in a Comfort Suites last night, and it wins hands down as a Knowledge Economy hotel.

Some of the amenities include wireless in meeting rooms and public areas, wired broadband in the rooms, a full service work area off the lobby that includes an Internet-connected pc, a fax machine, laser printer, and copy machine.

In the rooms, the Ethernet jack is above the level of the desk, as are four convenient AC outlets--no crawling on hands and knees under desks or behind beds to get a connection.

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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.

A second state readies a spaceport

California is following New Mexico in preparing a commercial spaceport. An article on describes the effort in the Mojave Desert, down in southern California.

At least four space transportation companies are located at the spaceport or are planning to use it, including Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites. Rutan's company is expected to win the $10 million dollar X prize for the first commercial sub-orbitals flights.

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Where the jobs are

The Thursday New York Times had a fascinating article on the op-ed page (page A27) that is worth chasing down if you can snag a copy. It's a graphic and a couple of paragraphs on data from the Federal Reserve Bank about where the jobs are and are not. The bar graph really helps clarify and make understandable the changes we have been seeing in the job market over the past several years. It's no surprise that in the "Manual Dexterity," "Muscle Power," and "Formulaic Intelligence" categories, steep declines are being registered (Formulaic Intelligence includes jobs like bookkeepers, clerks, and typists--work that technology is shifting).

Steep increases have been registered in "People Skills and Emotional Intelligence" (financial services sales, nurses, recreation workers, lawyers), "Imagination and Creativity" (actors, architects, designers, photographers, cosmetologists), and "Analytic Reasoning" (legal assistants, scientists, engineers).

The authors, who include the chief economist at the Federal Reserve, note that Americans have, many times in the past, adjusted to changing economic conditions and have learned new skills. They also note that whenever these shifts take place, in the long run, people end up with better jobs that pay more. Finally, they note that "trying to preserve existing jobs will prove futile."

Communities need to learn what the jobs of the future are and make sure the training is available for them. The best thing about this--many of these jobs do NOT require four years of college. Two year colleges and trade institutes can pro

India market crash not a surprise...

If you had read our recent book of the month Adventure Capitalist, you would not have been surprised by the market crash and unrest in India following elections. The author, Jim Rogers, predicted that India's rise in economic status would be bumpy because of the huge disparity between the rising middle class that has been fueling the economic development there and the desperately poor in rural areas, who represent a majority.

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Offshoring jobs and local effects

A short guest op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal (David Sikora, B2) provides another data point in the largely politics-driven debate about offshoring. Sikora is CEO of Pervasive Software, a medium-sized software company that began doing some development work in India last year. He makes two points worth considering.

First, he indicates that India is turning out world class programmers and software developers who are willing to work hard. Second, he says that by saving money on some company work in India, he has been able to create additional jobs in other parts of the company in the United States, expand the customer base, increase shareholder value (who are mostly Americans), and remain competitive in a global economy.

I am most concerned about Sikora's first point--that India is turning out high quality engineers and programmers. U.S. output of engineers and programmers has been falling for years. Somehow, our kids are not getting the message that working hard, getting good grades in math and science, and going to college for the "hard" degrees is worth it.

The collapse of the dot-com bubble did not help. For a couple of years, the newspapers were full of articles about technology workers losing their jobs. But the stories were often lopsidedly negative, and did not provide a balanced look at all the tech workers who did not lose their jobs. Most tech workers, outside of hyperinflated tech cities like Austin and Silicon Valley, did NOT lose their jobs.

This is not a problem that Federal or state governments are going to solve. Communities need to start working locally, revamping high school curriculums as much as possible to make sure kids leave with positive attitudes about math and science and with the skills they need to qualify for college engineering and science degree programs. Community colleges are going to be particularly important, as they can train students in tech specialties more quickly and more effectively than their more slow-changing four year college cousins.

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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.

Technology and grape tomatoes

I may sometime seem a bit negative about the challenges we face in the United States and the urgency of learning to compete not with the next county or the next state, but the next country. This article on the difficulties Europe faces may provide a bit of balance.

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