Digitally inclusive: Rural communities must embrace changing technology
“If community leaders don’t plan ahead for technology, they will be left behind,” said Roberto Gallardo, assistant director for the Purdue Center for Regional Development and regional economic specialist.
Gallardo was a keynote speaker at the Wyoming Rural Broadband Summit held Oct. 17 in Casper. Gallardo has written over 90 articles and reports on rural trends, socioeconomic analysis, industrial clusters, the digital divide and leveraging broadband applications for community economic development.
Fifty years of internet
“This December, the internet will have been around for 50 years,” said Gallardo.
He noted he challenges community leaders to ask themselves, “What if the broadband issue is fixed?”
He continued, “The question then becomes, ‘What will communities do to benefit from that technology?’”
“Upwards of 75 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have a smart phone and a single one of these smart phones has more computing power than the entirety of NASA in 1969,” said Gallardo.
“The digital age started as entertainment, but it has outgrown that sole purpose and evolved into so much more,” said Gallardo. “It has quickly transformed and what’s coming next is very exciting.”
“As of 2017, the digital economy was seven percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the U.S.,” said Gallardo. “This is a very conservative estimate as there isn’t a great way to measure this just yet.”
He continued, “The average compensation for a digital economy worker is $132,000 and the kicker is, these workers don’t have to live in dense urban areas like they used to.”
“The two big ‘ifs’ of digital employment are connectivity and know-how,” said Gallardo.
Gallardo explained he and his colleagues conducted a study at Purdue showing for every dollar invested in rural broadband, four dollars will be put back into the local economy. The main drivers of this were adult education and tele-health.
“The governor of Indiana read this report and announced a $100 million grant program to expand rural broadband,” Gallardo said.
Amazon and other interested partners have found there is a large amount of digital potential not being unleashed.
“Investing in rural internet would add over $40 billion to the U.S. economy and create more than 350,000 jobs,” said Gallardo.
“We have a USDA report showing it’s very clear the same impact will happen in the agriculture sector,” said Gallardo.
He continued, “If we brought an infrastructure with adequate digital technology and assisted with on farm-capabilities across those areas it would generate an impact between $47 and $65 million.”
He noted we must ask ourselves what we are doing to make sure farmers can truly use this caliber of technology.
“We don’t know exactly but there’s an estimate 25 percent of workers will be displaced in the next 10 years,” said Gallardo. “We’ve got to increase the talent pipeline of digital skills in these employees.”
“We have to ask what we are doing in our communities to help these employees,” said Gallardo. “With the right tools, we can reskill them and put them back out there into the digital economy.”
Gallardo explained upwards of two-thirds of elementary-aged students will work a job that doesn’t exist today.
“So what are our communities doing about this as well?” Gallardo asked.
He continued, “Workers need to update their skills. Oftentimes we focus too much on bachelor’s degrees, despite two-thirds of adults not having one.”
“Forty-six percent of jobs posted are what we call ‘middle skills jobs,’ that don’t require a bachelor’s degree but still pay a decent wage,” Gallardo explained. “Of those 46 percent of jobs, 82 percent require digital skills.”
“Teaching digital skills in our communities is imperative moving forward,” Gallardo said.
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.