STORY: Broadband: The highway to success for rural communities

In the world of community and economic development, broadband is today what railroads and highways were decades ago. Without it, new residents, visitors and businesses will simply pass communities by.

With the support of University of Wisconsin-Extension, community civic and business leaders formed networks to compare needs to available resources. Twenty-nine counties formed coalitions. More than 250 local leaders attended educational sessions to learn about expanding high-speed internet access and adoption; 110 community leaders committed to full-day workshops to plan next steps. And 96 businesses participated in a pilot e-commerce training.

A number of communities secured $150,000 grants to help build critical infrastructure and educate their residents about effective use of this technology. Grants and resources leveraged by communities and businesses, volunteer hours and efficiencies and savings totalled $20,571,683.

Overall, 1,316 participants took on new leadership roles in their community and 143 new community plans were developed. Nearly 30 new businesses emerged, creating 247 new jobs and retaining 373 current jobs. Plus, 126 new community policies were adopted.