Future of Sangamon County Relies on Increasing Digital Equity, Building a Next Generation Workforce
February 6, 2023 – Springfield area business and community leaders gathered Monday for a roundtable discussion about the once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring reliable, high-quality, high-speed Internet service to rural and underserved areas, saying Sangamon County’s economic future depends on embracing tools to grow digital equity and build a new generation workforce.
Between federal stimulus dollars and various state and county programs, nearly $50 billion is available nationwide to ensure more people can connect to broadband Internet service, which is vital to attracting new businesses to the region, helping children and adults develop important digital skills, and driving overall economic growth.
Joined by representatives from Comcast, panelists discussed the following ways to achieve digital equity, including:
- Build and expand state-of-the-art telecommunications networks in rural and other areas that don’t already have access to broadband Internet service;
- Educate low-income residents about the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which can fully or partially cover the cost of broadband Internet service that’s already available or coming to communities in Sangamon County (ACP provides eligible households up to $30/month toward the cost of their Internet and/or mobile service bills); and
- Help students develop the digital skills they need to succeed in school and adults develop the digital skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
During the panel, participants discussed the importance of broadband Internet connectivity and digital skills to everything from job creation and economic development to overall quality of life, the future of rural communities, providing meaningful health care access and unlocking the potential of every Sangamon County resident, regardless of their zip code.
- “What we’ve found in talking to companies that want to locate here is that broadband access is often a deciding factor, especially for those large facilities looking at acreage in our rural areas. Without it, they won’t locate here,” said Ryan McCrady, President and CEO of the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance.
- “Without reliable internet service, I worry some of our smaller rural towns will simply dry up and go away. It’s impossible to understate how important broadband is to encouraging people to live and work in these wonderful communities,” said Karen Conn, CEO of Conn’s Hospitality Group.
- “Modern manufacturing facilities are high-tech, using advanced technology to improve efficiency and increase innovation,” said Gordy Hulten, Chief Operating Officer at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Strong broadband access is critical to ensure continued success of the manufacturing sector and investment in communities across Illinois.”
- “Internet connectivity is key to our day-to-day operations, from room reservations and guest communication to food and supply ordering, said Darin Dame, Partner, SpringHill Suites Springfield Southwest. “It’s no longer a luxury for our guests, it’s a required amenity.”
- “We are passionate about ensuring allyouth and families in the Springfield and Jacksonville areas have access to our afterschool programs, academic support and, most importantly, basic needs and resources, which includes broadband access,” said Tiffany Mathis, Executive Director and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois. “A child’s ability to succeed should not be limited because of something as simple as internet access.”
- “Being able to access the Internet is about being able to access opportunity,” said Mike Murphy, President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why it’s so important residents know about programs that can help them better afford Internet service, should they need a little extra help.”
- “The pandemic showed just how important Internet access and digital skills are to the vitality of Illinois communities,” said Sean McCarthy, Comcast’s Regional Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to make sure more Illinoisans can connect to broadband Internet service and build the skills they need to succeed in school, at work and in life.”