The U.S. Department of Commerce recently announced a $3.2 million American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant to the Economic Development Council/Team Jefferson and NOA Net to bring broadband Internet access to rural areas of the county. WSU Jefferson County Extension serves as the county’s economic development council — perhaps the only arrangement of its kind in the nation.
The broadband grant is the latest success for EDC/Team Jefferson. Landing the grant wasn’t such a stretch, according to Jefferson County Extension director Katherine Baril.
“In a knowledge-based economy we as a major research university bring a great deal to the table in terms of innovation, commercialization, and expertise in engaging assets of the community in a shared effort,” Baril says.
Baril contracts with both Jefferson County and the state Department of Commerce to coordinate local economic development initiatives. Rather than bring in a manager and staff, the EDC relies on the expertise of Team Jefferson, a group of more than 20 executive and business retirees who volunteer their time, meeting monthly.
Among its other successes in its first three years, EDC/Team Jefferson connected the Port Townsend Paper Mill with the WSU Extension Energy Program to help them land a $2 million ARRA grant to develop a green energy biomass cogeneration facility. The mill is leveraging those funds into a new $55 million investment in incinerators, scrubbing equipment and upgrades, ensuring new green energy jobs and the new local product of “green-tagged” renewable electrical energy.
Baril says that of all of EDC/Team Jefferson’s successes the grant for broadband Internet infrastructure may be the most significant.
“This is historic when you think of the major milestones in economic development, starting with the train, then the phone, the highway system, the power grid, and now broadband,” she says. “This is all about investing in the future so that our rural kids have a place at the table in the information economy. Now our local farms can be online, businesses will connect with customers and suppliers, and we can attract more young families and entrepreneurs because we will have the reputation of being a ‘wired’ community, ready to adapt and innovate.”
WSU’s EDC/ Team Jefferson conducted extensive community assessments and interviews, identifying the need to focus on infrastructure, talent and workforce. Last December Baril and Team Jefferson convened a technical broadband advisory group of more than thirty local “anchor institutions” including schools, libraries, government agencies and emergency services.
They met weekly and developed a partnership with the not-for-profit Northwest Open Access Network, or NOA Net, which represents Public Utility Districts that have linked their fiber optics networks together to enable broadband access in rural and underserved communities.
In April the partnership submitted the grant application. They received the award in August that will fund a redundant loop of 100MB fiber to more than 30 key public organizations, including Jefferson County Extension, in the next two years.
“Extension brought the tractor to rural America in the 1930’s, and now we can say we delivered 100 MB of broadband access in the 21st century,” says Baril. “Our next challenge is to educate the community on how best to use it.”
To learn more about Team Jefferson, visit http://tech.jefferson.wsu.edu/