This Tuesday, Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario held its last annual conference on Rural Prosperity in Canada. As Senior Fellow leading the Rural Imperative for the Intelligent Community Forum, I was asked to give the opening, keynote speech.
My overall theme was that the countryside has a new opportunity to flourish, considering developments in technology and broadband, as well as the major post-industrial trends in North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. I also emphasized that broadband, while a necessary condition for community development, is not sufficient and must be integrated with other elements that build quality of life.
I won’t go into more detail here, since my presentation will be posted on their website. Instead I’ll report on some of the items presented by others that caught my attention.
1. Research on the economic impact of broadband
The researchers at the Monieson Centre of the university’s Business School presented the results of their analysis of the impact of broadband on employment and wages. They found that broadband deployment, from 1997-2011, had only a minor positive impact on employment in urban areas, but had a significantly more positive impact in rural areas. However, broadband was associated with wage increases in both rural and urban regions.
Moreover, they found there was no impact on employment at firms producing physical goods, but a major positive impact on employment and wages for services (although not all services).
Although we didn’t coordinate, it was nice to see results that tracked with the broad trends I’ve been highlighting for the last few years. In a way, my presentation explained the research results.
2. Rural broadband network in eastern Ontario
The association of the key leaders of rural counties in eastern Ontario (called the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus), with others, have spearheaded a project called EORN that is wrapping up its initial deployment this year. The Eastern Ontario Regional Network is building out rural areas with broadband that provides its 500,000 residents with 10 megabit connections – much more than is common even among most urban users of the Internet in North America. EORN officials think it is the most ambitious project of its kind in the Americas or possibly the world. They are certain it is the “most sustainable rural network” in the world.
Later in the day, Bo Beaulieu of Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development spoke about the necessity and value of regional cooperation among rural counties. My observation was that, with broadband and regional cooperation, these areas can present themselves as the virtual equivalent of a city and be able to compete economically in many ways not otherwise possible.
3. Creative uses of the countryside
There were various presentations on how the new countryside is more than just farming. One example was a “multi-functional” farm – yes, it grew food for sale, but also was an environmental education center, alternative energy demonstration site, publishing office, and a bed-and-breakfast set up by a “refugee” from Toronto.
Since, especially in this area of Canada, much of that nation’s history is better preserved in the countryside than in cities, historical and cultural resources have been used as a basis for economic development. See, for example, History Lives Here which has a variety of products, from videos and guided tours to History labelled wines from local wineries.
All in all, a very interesting day that provided strong evidence of the energy and innovation which is creating the future of rural areas in Canada and the rest of the world.