Do Jobs & Broadband Play in Rural VA?

189146814_f8190115f81Seen the “Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?” in the WP?

If you don’t live in a rural area, you probably aren’t paying much attention to broadband access in the small towns. For myself, in Blacksburg, it’s not really on my radar either – Blacksburg was (isn’t any more) one of the most wired (and wireless) small towns in the country and so wireless access isn’t something I think about much … it’s just there, and I seem to get a little ticked when I’m somewhere that I can’t get wireless. But for many Americans, particularly those in small towns sprinkled around VA, broadband access isn’t on their radar because they’ve never had it.

That’s why this article about broadband access in Lebanon and Rose Hill – small towns in VA – was so interesting to me. The undertaking was a first of it’s kind, and while broadband access is crucial to providing high-tech jobs and, in another sense improving at least one component of quality of life, the author goes off track in suggesting that broadband in and of itself cannot run an economy.

I spoke with a friend who used to be a planner in Pulaski County, here in Southwest VA, the other day about this project. He replied:

Rural areas are rural areas … period. For many people, especially those who likely got their high-tech training in an urban area or large university, the rural area may lack the amenities to provide the quality of life they desire or expect. I.E., movie theaters, places to eat and shop, local arts and festivals, libraries, museums and even basic things such as grocery stores … Obviously for some people that’s enough … but for an outsider coming in it might be a bit of culture shock.

Amenities are a part of a communities’ infrastructure. No longer are water and sewer lines, roads, etc., the only required components of that infrastructure. Parks and other leisure activities are becoming more and more a requirement of successful communities, but broadband alone cannot be a driving economic force. It can certainly be a component of economic development, and as well an asset, but that alone will not attract and retain a highly-educated workforce. I’d like to see some realistic non-biased statistic on how many people that this company has attracted, only to have those same individuals leave not only the company but the area because of a lack of other important amenities. That is one of the biggest reasons that places like Rose Hill and Lebanon have remained, for the most part, rural – the lack of supporting infrastructure.”

From a planning perspective, I can see that. From a utopian perspective, I struggle with it. Why can’t a broadband industry be the lifeblood of a small, rural town in VA? Can it be done? Or are my glasses just a little too rosy?

Photo by Mahalie

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6 Responses to Do Jobs & Broadband Play in Rural VA?

  1. Julie Emery says:

    There are other amenities that these communities may have that are less available in the cities. Think fresh air, peace and quiet, plentiful access to fresh, local food all around you. One person’s amenities are another’s distractions and annoyances. Museums, movie theaters, etc. are surely not necessities for many of us. They’re very nice to visit but I’m happy driving an hour or two to visit them.

    But broadband should now be as critical a part infrastructure as running water, electricity and phone service.

    Even without it, I’m not ready to leave my country home, however!

  2. Vonda Lacey says:

    When I moved to rural Virginia 19 years ago broadband was not an issue. Having grown up in Atlanta I found myself running to Charlottesville or Roanoke for a “BIG” city fix every chance I had.

    Now that broadband is sporadically available in my rural area and highly necessary for my real estate operation I find myself frustrated at times. DSL is available where my office is located, but at my home, it is not. If I drive 2 miles east or west, it is! Does not make sense to me, if available everywhere you would think this would generate income for the struggling phone companies. Finally, someone (NOT the phone company) told me about an air card. I have just purchased my second which is high speed and it bounces off the cell towers, I love it.

    I agree with Julie (above), rural does not need all the amenities. Most amenities are available in a 1-3 hour drive, if needed. I use my experience of frustration when working with clients from bigger cities so they will be aware of some frustrations they may experience. It took me about 1.5 years to truly adapt to rural Virginia. Then, I tell them how wonderful rural Virginia is and how grateful I am that my children were not raised in a “big” city. Lastly, if they choose a home without broadband, I tell them to get an aircard! The only other rural option for highspeed is Hughesnet through Directv, BUT it is also much more expensive than the aircard.

    I believe that the lack of broadband restricts the growth of high tech (higher paying) jobs. But at least having it sporadically is good for a rural community. Our hospital which is approximately 10 years old has been rated in the top 100 in the country since it opened. And many people will commute to the bigger city, like Charlottesville, for their job just to live in the more rural environment.

  3. Vonda Lacey says:

    One more thought! We have had big corporations like Toyota seek to open an operation in our “rural” area because of our low tax base. It was our County administration’s lack of foresight and desire to stifle “too much” growth that pushed Toyota away. It was not the lack of or spottiness of broadband.

    Our rural children that are trained for “high-tech” find themselves moving away initially to the big city, but many return later in life.

  4. Tim Johnson says:

    Pursuing broadband as a way to lure industry is quixotic, but I’d seen many rural communities in rural Minnesota use that logic to build out their infrastructure. Rural communities should instead have realistic ambitions that having an updated infrastructure will help existing companies AND accomodate people who want to work from their home. I believe corporations in coming years will be more likely to hire independent contractors who work off-site than to have them on-site — broadband is essential for these folks, and is crucial for so many other folks in the community as well, like someone who wants to get a graduate degree in an online program.

  5. Pat Kline says:

    I agree with Tim. I too am adjusting to “semi-rural” life. My mother is from a very small town in Maine so I’m pretty familiar with towns without jobs. If there was a possibility of independent contractor work, many would not have to leave. Local government planning involves saying no to businesses that will create more problems than they solve, but the ability to work from home or a small business location seems like the best of both worlds.

  6. Cooper Lang says:

    Vonda is dead on.

    I live in a larger city and have spent a great deal of time in densely populated areas. I love the fact that I can get away to a place that has limited connectivity and just unplug from my “always on” lifestyle.

    That is the amenity.

    I think there are always options for those who feel they absolutely need a particular service. In the case of broadband, the aircards are the way to go. For most rural communities it is an option. For the remainder, there is not much to be done. They will just have to get by until technology allows for simple global coverage. Shouldn’t be long now =)

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