To Jared Arnett, the executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the future of Appalachia hinges on the ability to embrace technology and become a participant in the digital economy. With complete Internet access throughout the mountains, excelling in technology provides the opportunity for this region to compete with the rest of the world for the best, high-tech jobs of the future.
Arnett spoke about what having broadband connectivity creates for the region during a talk at Monday’s meeting of the Ashland Rotary Club.
SOAR is a nonpartisan economic development agency that unites 54 eastern Kentucky counties with the task to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity, improve the quality of life and support all those working to achieve these goals.
Arnett shared SOAR’s blueprint developed for building jobs, capacity and health. Increasing the availability of affordable high-speed broadband, through fiber, to businesses and residents is one of seven goals within the blueprint.
He noted the blueprint for 21st century Appalachia is not a typical plan, but one that can be implemented at the local level.
There are 18 million jobs in the digital economy right now, said Arnett. He used Amazon Web Services as an example of an ideal partnership that could connect jobs to those in rural counties, without people having to relocate, saying there are dozens of other similar companies. Arnett said the skills needed could be taught through community colleges via a partnership with SOAR.
He added for this to happen, people need to be connected and need to have available broadband. He also said another aspect of the 21st century workforce is to have others understand how to make a living from the Internet.
Arnett explained this plan is not as much needed in Ashland as it is in more rural areas with fewer resources like Harlan and Leslie counties, citing the competitive industrial assets incorporated in the town, including the interstate, river and industrial park.
Clearly, Internet-based jobs are growing rapidly and as this region improves its access to dependable, high-speed Internet service, there is no reason individuals living in Hazard, Martin, Fallsburg and Ashland cannot land those jobs.
Some skeptics may dismiss Arnett and others as unrealistic dreamers, but we think they are on the right track in building a better future for the region. One does not need to live in a major city with an interstate highway and a major airport to work from home. Neither do you need all and conveniences large cities offer. All you need in easy access to the Internet and the easiest, least expensive improvement this region can make to boost our economy. It should be or highest priority.
Daily Independent of Ashland