Tech symposium keynote says broadband will boost economy
POTSDAM, Apr 13, 2012 (Watertown Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
High-speed Internet access is a high-tech pole that may help the north country vault obstacles to development.
Economic growth in the region is constrained by its remoteness and sparse population, but a futurist said technological advances are removing many of those impediments.
Simon J. Anderson, co-author of the new book "Foresight 20/20" and founder of Futur1st.com, said the Internet and wireless technology are making distances and density less important in the global economy.
"Improving and advancing technology presents huge opportunities for areas like the St. Lawrence River Valley," he said. "While rural areas have historically been somewhat limited by their geography in terms of competing with larger markets, new technology is really leveling the playing field."
Mr. Anderson will deliver the keynote address to the North Country Technology Symposium on May 23 at Clarkson University.
Organizers hope Mr. Anderson's address will lead north country businesses to consider the next step in the evolution of business technology, said Laura J. Perry, a spokeswoman for the event.
"We're kind of all getting our minds wrapped around using the tools that are available now, but he is going to talk about some of the different industries and how their entire model is going to change and how that is going to impact their businesses," she said. "It is going to be a wake-up call."
At least one company sponsoring the event, Slic Network Solutions, has been laying fiber-optic broadband cable throughout the north country.
"Really, in today's economy, broadband infrastructure is very similar to electricity or telephone service. It is really an essential service," said Philip J. Wagschal, president of Slic Network Solutions.
High-speed Internet and wireless telecommunications allow smaller towns to be more flexible and resilient to economic changes, Mr. Anderson said.
"The opportunity for smaller communities, much like smaller companies, is that they are often better able to adapt as long as they are not overly reliant on a single industry or nearby factory," he said, giving Detroit's decades-long reliance on the automobile industry as an example.
"When it became clear that they were not going to survive conducting business as usual and because their industry and infrastructure was too large to make the needed corrections in time, the results were catastrophic," Mr. Anderson said. "Geographic constraint, while still a factor, is certainly not the impedance it was once."
In the north country, Newton Falls could have mirrored Detroit on a smaller scale. When the community's paper mill closed in 2010, taking 83 jobs with it, Slic had recently finished wiring the town with fiber-optic cable. The closure did not lead to an exodus from the hamlet of 400, said sales engineer Jeff M. Yette.
"That community is continuing to thrive," he said. "We're getting new installations that we're doing every month up there."
Being able to access the Internet anywhere, anytime brings people closer to the information -- and the services -- they need to do business, said Mr. Anderson.
"Anyone with an Internet connection has access to nearly all of the information that someone anywhere else has, regardless of where they live," he said.
So instead of leaving home to search for opportunities, like migrants during the Great Depression, today's unemployed might start an Internet business, said Mr. Yette.
Beyond that, Mr. Wagschal said, the Internet allows people access to education no matter where they are connecting.
"We're actually constructing fiber now in locations that are primarily under served," he said. "That allows the residents of those areas to access the Internet via broadband, which improves their quality of life and opens opportunities for access to different markets, access to telecommute and access to online learning."
The symposium, in its third year, is a business-to-business conference that presents new and emerging technologies to industries throughout the region, Ms. Perry said.
"We see huge opportunity for our area to grow and expand through the use of technology," she said.
"It is a driving purpose for what we do. The symposium offers these resources to our businesses here at home. We look at it as a daylong opportunity for training."
Anyone interested in sponsoring, exhibiting, advertising or attending the symposium should contact Ms. Perry at 265-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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