Broadband Connectivity on the Regional Level

By Guest Contributor Sarah Thompson, MPA

SarahT

Sarah Thompson is the Executive Director of the Southwestern Commission, and Administrator of the Mountain West Partnership.

-What is Region A and the Southwestern Commission?

The Southwestern Planning and Economic Development Commission was formed in 1965 by concurrent, joint resolution of the counties and municipalities within the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina (Cherokee, Graham, Clay, Swain, Macon, Jackson, and Haywood) [Swain, Macon, and Jackson are the 3 counties served by Fontana Regional Library]. It was within this same time period that COGs all across the state and U.S. were formed. Initially, the driving factor behind this movement was money.  Between 1965 and 1975, state legislatures and the US Congress created thousands of grant-in-aid programs totaling billions of dollars in funds available to local governments. Funds were appropriated for water and sewer systems, housing, solid waste, emergency medicine, juvenile delinquency, recreation, health care, law enforcement, economic development, job training, senior citizens services and a plethora of other purposes.

The Commission has three primary departments: Workforce Development, Area Agency on Aging, and Community and Economic Development. We are one of 16 Councils of Government in North Carolina. We are governed by the local governments in the region, and our board is comprised of county commissioners and town mayors and aldermen in our 7 county region.

[link to a library resource about the Southwestern Commission (aka Region A)]

-How and when did the Southwestern Commission become involved with broadband?

Through our work in economic development and community planning, it has become increasingly apparent that lack of high speed broadband is the number one deterrent to economic growth that our region now faces. Whereas in the mid-to-late 20th century, basic infrastructure such as roads and water/sewer were our primary needs for economic competiveness, in today’s information era, it is broadband. As we have historically been a regionally focused agency that works with local governments on infrastructure needs, we felt that we should be doing all that we can to improve and expand broadband service to the region.


-Why do you feel Broadband and Connectivity are important for our region?

The economic reality is changing for rural America. We’ve had three major industrial employers leave our region in the past five years alone. Although we still focus on attracting large employers, the majority of economic growth is trending in small businesses and entrepreneurs. Nearly all sectors of the economy rely on the internet- private business, education, health care, etc. Without adequate access to today’s technology, we will fall behind.

 

-What is happening in Region A regarding Broadband issues?

The Mountain West Partnership (gownc.org) is a new economic development partnership for the seven western counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Southwestern Commission administers the partnership. The Mountain West Partnership Board of Directors directed Southwestern Commission staff to find a way to address the lack of broadband access in the region. Due to legislative barriers in our state laws that do not allow local governments to compete with private sector providers, increased access cannot be achieved fully by the public sector. The solution will have to be some form of public/private partnership model, in which the public sector is able to put some infrastructure funds on the table to incent private providers to provide service. Infrastructure is expensive, and because of our low population density, a private provider cannot see a reasonable return on investment if they pay for all of the infrastructure. Our local governments have fairly limited budgets, and many services to provide. Our hope is that in the near future, some state and federal subsidies will become available to rural areas such as ours, as was the case in the past with issues such as electrification and telephone service.


-What specifically is the Southwestern Commission doing, especially with regards to a consultant?

The Commission has contracted with ECC Technologies to conduct a broadband assessment of our region this fall. In this Phase I of our efforts, we hope to achieve a high response rate on the survey so as to aggregate the actual demand for service. Phase I also includes training for each county’s broadband committee on laws, policies, and solutions. Phase II, next year, will involve using the data collected in Phase I to begin negotiating with private providers for increased or improved service in the communities within our region. We realize that many communities have already surveyed the public on this issue, and all of the data from those surveys will be used in our study. However we encourage everyone to please take and share the survey under way now, as it is a very important step in this process.

Link to survey: http://mountainwest.baat-campaign.com/campaigns/master

For more information and resources on broadband in general and in our area, please see Fontana Regional Library’s Local Broadband webpage: http://fontanalib.libguides.com/broadband 

{Fontana Regional Library is concerned about Connectivity as part of our Long Range Plan}

National Independent Retailer Month

by Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. Eric writes for the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently moved into a new location at 98 Hyatt Road, Franklin.

The month of July is National Independent Retailer Month, and a majority of our member businesses are just that, independent retailers. Being a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is more than just putting your business’ name in a guide book and on a website. Being a member of the Chamber puts you in a group of local businesses that are all striving towards the same goal: success! By becoming a member of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, you join a vast pool of resources from which all of our members draw ideas, energy, and networking. The popular quote from Aristotle,  “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, resonates in the membership of the Chamber. What goods or services one of our members may not offer, another might, and vice versa, allowing customers to keep their dollars local, energizing the local economy and putting more people to work.

Our searchable database of Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce members is here: FACC Member Businesses

Members are highlighted in our information area

The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is a non profit organization working to build a healthy economy, improve the area’s quality of life, promote the business interests of our members, and provide tools for your business’ success. One huge advantage to the Franklin Chamber of Commerce is that we’re also home to Franklin’s Welcome Center. Visitors and locals come in looking for information about things to do, places to shop, eat, and stay. Being a member of the Chamber gives you exposure that you won’t get trying to navigate a target audience with a much more involved advertising budget. The Chamber of Commerce also seeks out advertising in regional publications, giving readers a pathway to getting more information about Franklin, exposing them to our website, and driving more customers right to your door.

Tying all of these benefits together, our new facility has provided a more immersive experience for people coming to the area who are looking for restaurants, local shops, and activities. In addition to our “brick and mortar” location, the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce reaches out to interact with our members in many of the most popular social media platforms. A growing presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more, we interact with not only potential visitors, but also with our members who participate in these platforms as well. Sharing upcoming events, specials, dining, lodging, as well as giving our members spotlights and features, puts them in front of even larger audiences than ever before.

By joining other area independent retailers in the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, you become part of a business community that thrives and succeeds as a whole. Our role in that process is to help facilitate interaction between local residents and visitors, by guiding them to our members to meet their needs. In so doing, the money that is spent locally helps to foster economic growth and prosperity for our members and their employees, which in turn, provides a successful environment for small businesses to thrive.

To request information about becoming a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, follow the link here – Membership Information & Benefits

Finally, the Fontana Regional Library has resources to support independent retailers, such as these 3 titles (and 495 more):

Managing your business to minimize disruption [electronic resource] : a guide for small businesses in North Carolina.

The great equalizer : how Main Street capitalism can create an economy for everyone / David M. Smick.

How to start your very first business / from the producers of Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaire’s Club, with Julie Merberg and Sarah Parvis.

With access to the resources of NC Cardinal,  there are over 1200 more titles about this subject available in eBook and print.