Economic development

Work from home opportunities continue to increase

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:01

DirecTV recently announced it was bringing more jobs to southwest Virginia, but these are not traditional jobs. Instead, these are work from home jobs. The company is establishing a virtual call center. Congressman Rick Boucher made a sweep through the region last month to announce the new job opportunities, which amount to 100 new jobs. DirecTV already employs more than 1100 home-based workers, and other major firms like Apple have been making heavy use of home-based workers for several years.

What does this mean for economic development? Several things jump out:

Fiber brings a textile mill back to life

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 09:23

I was in Danville, Virginia last week, and was reminded of the changes that fiber is bringing to that community, which has experienced some of the highest unemployment in the state over the last decade. The White Mill building had been considered a white elephant for years--once a showpiece textile manufacturing plant--but closed for years and a visible sign of Danville's proud past and uncertain future. The White Mill building is being converted into a massive commercial data center with 500,000 square feet of server space.

What I saw last week is still a work in progress, but what a difference a few months make. The formerly forlorn industrial site has been cleaned up, the interior renovations are well under way, and the property values of empty downtown storefronts has probably been quietly soaring. The White Mill building is walking distance from Danville's Main Street, and the 400 high tech jobs the project is bringing will bring Main Street back to life, as those workers will be getting coffee in the mornings, buying lunch every day, doing a little shopping, and meeting after work for a beverage.

What was it that brought a data center to Danville. It's simple, and takes just two words.

Community fiber.

Not a promise of fiber if a company shows up, not a plan for fiber, not a feasibility study, but fiber--in the ground and on poles, owned by the community, ready to use, and open access. Danville bet big back in 2006 when it made the decision to invest scarce community resources on open fiber, but now it's looking like one of the best decisions the city ever made.

Disclosure: Design Nine has been advising the City since 2006 on broadband.

Intelligent Community Smart 7 awards announced

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 16:08

The Intelligent Community Forum announced their Smart Seven communities for 2010 yesterday.

One of Design Nine's projects, nDanville, was one of the ICF's Smart 21 communities this year, and got a mention for its success in attracting new jobs by building community fiber.

Broadband helps job seekers

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 09:55

A new study by the Phoenix Center indicates that job seekers with access to broadband are more likely to find jobs. The study says it best to have broadband access, but even those still stuck on dial-up do better in their job searches than those with no Internet access at all.

The cost of broadband at home (averaging between $25 and $40 a month) also highlights the importance of libraries and public computing centers for job seekers. If you are out of work, you may have to cut out luxuries like broadband at home, so you need to a place to go to do your online job searches.

Design Nine's nDanville network selected for Intelligent Community award

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/19/2009 - 07:35

The Design Nine-designed open access network nDanville has been selected by the Intelligent Community Forum as one of the Smart21 communities for 2010. This international award looks not only at technology but how communities integrate technology into their community and economic development plans. Danville, Virginia's nDanville network was the first municipal open access, open services network in the United States, and has been connecting business customers since 2007. The community has successfully attracted new businesses and jobs because of the high performance network, including a $400 million data center that will be placed in what was formerly one of the largest textile mills in the country (the mill closed years ago with the loss of thousands of jobs).

The City of Danville Utilities Department took the lead in the effort, and has installed more than 100 miles of fiber throughout the City, and has taken fiber to every single business park and every single lot in each park, and has run fiber in the downtown area, including the historic Tobacco Warehouse District, which has fiber to renovated tobacco warehouse commercial buildings, apartments, and condos.

All services on the nDanville network are provided by private sector service providers, and businesses have a choice of 100 megabit Layer 3 service-oriented connections and Gigabit point to point connections.

You can't build kitchen cabinets on dial up

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/09/2009 - 09:10

Ski season is right around the corner in New England, and I just spent three days working with a group of communities in a very rural part of New England on broadband issues. Like many rural communities, large portions of this region are both unserved (still on dial up) and underserved (poor quality DSL or cable modem). Complicating the problem is a telephone infrastructure that is in poor condition, meaning erratic DSL service and extremely slow dial up.

I kept meeting people that were trying to work part time or full time from home, but were extremely frustrated because they either had only dial up at home or very slow DSL. Cable service was available in only a few small areas because of the rural nature of the region. What it means, practically, is that the incumbent telecom companies are controlling growth and land use in the region, not the local governments. I heard story after story about business location decisions made entirely on the basis of where there was broadband availability. While many of the stories were from professional people, including a software developer, a real estate property manager, and a financial consultant, the most interesting story came from a custom cabinet maker, who had located his business in a downtown retail area because it was the only place where there was broadband service.

You might wonder why a woodworker needs broadband, but this craftsman designs all his work on the computer and sends the finished drawings to a firm with computerized cutting machines that cuts all the various parts and pieces of the cabinets out and ships them back to the cabinetmaker for assembly and installation. You can't exchange CAD drawings over dial up. And even cable and DSL are barely adequate; for this kind of engineering design work, you need symmetric bandwidth so that you can upload the drawings.

Local leaders need help understanding that zoning, land use, energy conservation, and business growth are increasingly out of their control because the telecom companies (and where they offer broadband) are driving all these decisions.

Community fiber brings jobs--work from home jobs

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/17/2009 - 08:32

Powell, Wyoming's community-owned citywide fiber network is up and running, and the town is starting to get phone calls from businesses interested in taking advantage of the affordable broadband and the fact that every home has a high performance fiber connection.

Powell community leaders report a Denver firm is visiting to discuss bringing 100 work from home jobs to the community. Here is the money quote:

"The citywide fiber optic network absolutely drove the decision...."

Why fiber cable route diversity and redundancy are important

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/29/2009 - 14:27

A submarine cable serving several African countries has been damaged. The cable is the only Internet route out of several west African nations, putting the entire country into a virtual Internet blackout, with slow, expensive satellite links the only way for data to move in and out of the countries. Here in the U.S., some counties and states are bigger than these countries, and route diversity is now a serious issue for relocating businesses.

The coming boom in server farms

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/24/2009 - 11:01

Here is a story about the state of North Carolina trying to entice Apple to place a 100 job server farm in the state. With unemployment in North Carolina nudging 11%, state officials are smart to try to attract Knowledge Economy businesses, and server farms are a growth industry. The massive amounts of data being stored "online" have to reside in a physical place, and the companies that are making a business out of this (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and many smaller firms) have several requirements.

They have to spread these data centers out for security reasons--fires, floods, and terrorism can happen almost anywhere, so no reputable firm wants to store all its data in one place. So they have multiple data centers, each storing complete copies of all the data. Second, spreading the centers out helps speed data to and from its destination. Different data centers will deliver data to customers based on customer location.

When picking sites for these server farms, these companies are, of course, looking for tax benefits, but your community won't get on the short list unless you have local fiber, good fiber routes out to major Internet switchpoints, and reliable electric power.

All things that are relatively easy to get started on if you want businesses of the future.

Broadband Properties: Fiber and economic development

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/01/2009 - 10:18

I am back from three days at the Broadband Properties annual conference. As more communities make investments in broadband infrastructure, we are beginning to get some interesting data back on the economic impact.

In Anson, Indiana, a developer is putting duct and fiber to 1790 homes and 9 million square feet of commercial and retail space--all part of a master planned community. The investment has brought an Amazon distribution center and 1200 jobs to the community.

In Orlando, Florida, the Lake Nona planned community is building one of the nation's largest set of medical facilities, with more than 5 million square feet of specialty clinics, hospitals, and medical facilities. One million square feet of retail is planned, and 5400 housing units are being built. There will be fiber to every single premise.

In the rural Hill Country near Austin, Texas, the local telephone coop is building fiber to the home, and says that the initiative has retained 150 jobs and added 200 new jobs. The coop works closely with local economic developers, who are pushing hard to get the right telecom infrastructure to be able to meet any business need.

Economic developers in other parts of the country need to be asking: "How do our regions compare with these kinds of projects? How will we convince companies to come to our region when these other communities have world class telecom infrastructure?"

Rural broadband is creating job opportunities

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2009 - 12:49

From Beaumont, Texas, an interesting article with some good anecdotal data about newly emerging job opportunities where high performance, affordable broadband is available in rural areas. And where it is not, people are actually renting commercial office space to do jobs that could be done from home--a very sad state of affairs. Nationwide, millions of new jobs could open up in rural communities if the right kind of affordable broadband is available.

The Library of the Future

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/17/2009 - 11:11

Libraries have a bright future, particularly in small and medium–sized communities. As the Knowledge Economy continues to change the way business is conducted, both locally and globally, libraries can play an essential economic development role as well as enhance community and civic life. Indeed, by changing and adapting their role and mission slightly, libraries could enter a “Golden Age,” where the venerable institution plays a more central role in the community, with a commensurate increase in funding.

The attached handout describes how libraries can play a central role in the economic renewal of communities--including entrepreneurial development, small business growth, job training, and the arts.

Renting supercomputers to increase economic development

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/14/2009 - 08:27

As far back as 2004 I wrote about the potential to use supercomputers as an economic development tool. A few universities in the U.S. have made supercomputer time available as a fee, and New Mexico is probably farthest along, with an ambitious and visionary statewide project to make supercomputing capacity available throughout the state. Meanwhile, a firm in India is commercializing supercomputer access. As regional and municipal broadband projects like nDanville, The Wired Road, and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband project bring high performance fiber to most businesses, it becomes relatively straightforward to put a supercomputer on the network and offer it as a service for hire by the hour or by the job. A region with a fiber network and supercomputer services would have a substantial economic development advantage.

Cluster-based economic development

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 09:15

This story about how some laid off sign manufacturing workers used technology like Facebook to help each other cope with job loss and job seeking has an interesting nugget in the middle of the story.

The laid off workers started working with local economic developers to get an intense focus on attracting new companies in the sign-making business as well as helping existing companies in the area find new business (and then hire some of the laid off workers). The strategy was very successful, and provides a useful illustration of the importance of identifying local business assets and promoting them as part of an overall economic strategy that is more than just industrial recruitment. Helping existing businesses grow is the quickest and easiest way to create jobs--just look at the data. Most new jobs are created by businesses already in place in your community, and not by relocating businesses.

Broadband on Main Street

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 16:42

Broadband investments should be part of a larger set of community and economic development strategies. This handout describes what is needed to bring Main Street back to life, with a particular focus on attracting a broader mix of professional businesses, entrepreneurial start ups, and high tech firms.

Rural Wyoming business creates 700 home-based jobs with fiber

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 10:27

Via Broadband_Report's Twitter feed, here is an NPR story that shows the impact fiber can have in rural areas. An entrepreneurial start up business in tiny Ten Sleep, Wyoming (pop. 350) is on track to employ 700 home-based workers by the end of this year. The business? Teaching English to Koreans. Oh, and the 15,000 students are in Korea.

Why does this work? Ten Sleep has fiber, which enables inexpensive hosting of the live two-way video connections needed to support the individual student-teacher sessions.

How about your rural community? Would 700 new jobs help the local economy? And these are green jobs--no commuting, no use of fossil fuels to get to work. These folks pour a cup of coffee and walk to work--in the next room.

Where to find the next new business

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/13/2009 - 14:20

Smart economic developers should start advertising California. Businesses, engineers, scientists, and other business professionals are packing up and leaving the state. Many of them will be looking for the good quality of life in small towns and fiber to the home, so they can work from home and/or run their newly relocated business from home. And fiber in your local businesses parks will help attract the bigger firms moving from California.

New Mexico's Spaceport signs 20 year lease with Virgin Galactic

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/02/2009 - 09:47

New Mexico's rise to dominance of the space industry in the U.S. may become the fodder of economic development case studies for decades. The State of New Mexico just announced that it has signed a twenty year lease of facilities at Spaceport America with Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic says it intends to locate its world headquarters at the facility, bringing with it jobs and tourism.

New Mexico started down this path years ago, when the whole idea of spaceports seemed a bit kooky. But it has been a textbook example of setting a bold vision, funding it properly, and sticking with it until results begin to pay off. Many communities and regions have great ideas, but fail in execution by not funding them properly and/or not staying with them long enough to see the impact.

Virginia is another state with big plans for a commercial spaceport. The Eastern Shore of Virginia has been working with NASA for sometime to convert the obscure Wallops Island rocket launching facility into a mixed use spaceport that supports both government and commercial operations. Not surprisingly, broadband is playing a key role, and NASA and the two counties on the lower Delmarva Peninsula have formed the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority, which is about to break ground on a major fiber backbone to support spaceport operations. The Broadband Authority is also beginning work on a community broadband fiber to the home network in the very rural area because the influx of knowledge workers, scientists, and engineers need business class broadband services at home.

Did you know?

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 10/26/2008 - 10:45

This short video has been around in various forms for several years. This new version has been updated with current data, and should be required viewing for all educators, economic developers, and elected leaders.

Danville, Virginia broadband report

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2008 - 09:32

Here is a brief video report on the broadband fiber network already in use in Danville, Virginia. The system has been operational for 10 months, and all services on the network are offered by private sector service providers (Disclaimer: Design Nine has helped Danville design and deploy the network).

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