On August 24, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced the selection of 10 communities in six states that will participate in the Cool & Connected planning assistance program, an innovative initiative to help people use broadband service for downtown revitalization and economic development.
“Cool & Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work, and play,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “We’re excited to be working with these local leaders and use broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”
Through Cool & Connected, partner communities will receive direct technical assistance from a team of experts to develop strategies and an action plan for using expected or existing broadband service to create connected, economically vibrant main streets and small-town neighborhoods.
By combining broadband service with other local assets, such as cultural and recreational amenities, communities can attract and retain investment and people, revitalize downtowns and diversify local economies. Cool & Connected also protects the environment by encouraging the reuse of existing infrastructure and by improving walkability. For example, strategies that help communities reinvest in established areas can help preserve open spaces and farmlands and protect air and water quality.
EPA support for Cool & Connected is provided through the Office of Sustainable Communities, which helps communities develop in ways that protect public health and the natural environment by creating walkable, livable, economically vibrant communities, and supporting reinvestment in existing neighborhoods.
USDA support is provided by the Rural Utilities Service, which provides funding for critical infrastructure including electricity generation and transmission, water and waste water facilities and telecommunications for rural America.
The Appalachian Regional Commission support is through the Obama Administration’s Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative (POWER), a multi-agency effort to invest federal resources in communities and regions that have relied on the coal industry and are impacted by the changing energy landscape.
Cool & Connected Partner Communities:
- Haleyville, Ala: To pursue a downtown broadband strategy that promotes business recruitment and development, diversifies the economy, and connects the library and City Hall to people through digital archives and e-government initiatives.
- Portsmouth, Ohio: To help the Southern Ohio Port Authority use their historic and commercial districts’ broadband and public Wi-Fi capabilities to increase the number of people who walk and open businesses. The plan will also connect downtown amenities to recreation areas by using information kiosks and QR Code/smart phone technology.
- Zanesville, Ohio: To increase new employment opportunities, support an emerging arts scene, and develop an app for visitors to explore their walkable downtown.
- Clarion, Penn.: To increase their local communications capacity to market nature-based tourism, motivate people to invest along the historic Main Street, and create an incentive for students at Clarion University to stay in the community.
- Curwensville, Penn.: To support the Curwensville Regional Development Corporation in creating a downtown co-working space for professionals, students, or entrepreneurs to use as an alternative to working from home or commuting long distances.
- Erwin, Tenn.: To help the city and Erwin Utilities develop a comprehensive marketing plan for their downtown broadband connection, with the goal of attracting young professionals, visitors, and investors.
- Jonesville and Pennington Gap, Va.: To market and develop Wi-Fi zones, extend broadband service, and promote main street development by attracting potential anchor tenants.
- Bluefield, W. Va.: To develop a plan for their downtown area to take advantage of the available broadband and market their businesses through the best outlets.
- Weirton, W. Va: To help the Mary H. Weir Public Library and community partners develop a plan to increase and expand broadband services and Wi-Fi zones, in order to bring visitors, new families, and businesses to the downtown area.
- Williamson, W. Va.: To support the Williamson Health and Wellness Center in leveraging broadband access and Wi-Fi zones downtown and at educational institutions to cultivate a skilled workforce, help people open businesses, and enhance the use of heath care technology.
Photo credit: www.townofpenningtonva.gov