All eyes are on Jefferson as Iowa lawmakers in every party and at every level promise to expand broadband services into rural Iowa.
The city recently attracted a major technology company that offers recent high school graduates jobs that pay up to $75,000.
It’s a business model lawmakers are hoping to replicate across rural Iowa.
The idea to bring high-speed internet services was shared twice this week. Once by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in her annual Condition of the State Address, and again by Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who – despite the storm that’s been brewing between the nation’s two largest political parties as the federal government shutdown continues – said she will work across the aisle with Democratic congresswomen Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer in order to provide high-speed internet services to rural Iowans.
Reynolds proposed putting $20 million during the next two years toward broadband infrastructure in Iowa, to “ensure every part of Iowa has the same opportunity.”
Her plan also includes leveraging $120 million in private investments in order to move forward with the plan.
She also announced the creation of a Center for Rural Revitalization within the Iowa Economic Development authority.
“This center will focus on making Iowa an even greater priority and give our main streets a road map for success,” she said.
In places like Jefferson, Reynolds said, rural Iowans are already showing ingenuity and drive and are proving small towns can be as vibrant as ever.
“Since 2012, over 100 Greene County residents volunteered over 129,000 hours to raise funds, write grants and work on committees,” Reynolds said. “They’ve transformed downtown Jefferson, attracted 14 businesses and rehabbed dozens of buildings.”
City residents there also recently voted to pass a bond referendum for the high school, which will soon host a career academy that will feed a downtown business called the Forge.
The Forge will employ 30 technology consultants who are just out of high school. The company set up similar designs in places like SiliconVallley, Ann Arbor, Michigan and
“Now it’s coming to downtown Jefferson,” Reynolds said. “Why? Because even people in our nations largest cities can see what rural Iowa has to offer.”
Ernst mentioned her push for rural broadband a few days earlier on a conference call with Iowa reporters.
She boasted some strong numbers from the December jobs report. More than 12,000 new jobs were added nationally in December, and wages across the U.S. increased by 3.2 percent.
“This strong economy did not happen by accident,” Ernst said. “The growth is a direct result of what the last congress put in place to reduce taxes.”
When asked how she can make sure those new job and wage numbers continue to climb – particularly in rural Iowa – Ernst said she’s planning to team up with Axne and Finkenauer to tackle issues important to rural Iowa, such as creating the rural broadband system and funding other infrastructure needs.
“I think we can be great partners for Iowa,” Ernst said, “despite the differences we might have.”
Axne has previously laid out an entire plan to revive rural Iowa, which includes fixing Iowa’s aging infrastructure, which includes bridges, water and sewer systems, and broadband and cellular connections.
Ernst also mentioned she’s willing to work with the two Democrats on immigration reform because “Iowa has very low unemployment and we would love to have additional workers come to Iowa.
“It’s really ahrd to do more when you have a lack of workers,” Ernst said. “...What I hear from a lot of small business leaders is they do want to grow and expand, so bringing workers into those communities will be key.”