The Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce brought in an international expert, Robert Bell, to help identify ways to expand broadband throughout Natchitoches Parish. This effort took the form of a series of round-tables to discuss not only what was needed, but how to best meet those needs. Participants included technology experts from NSU, reps from local providers (such as Suddenlink and CP-Tel), educational reps and large industry reps. Discussed were service gaps, anticipated timelines to meet demand/grow demand, and economic factors that could speed delivery.
From those meetings, the consensus for desired outcomes over a 2-3 year period broke down into—above all—having broadband available throughout the parish; main drivers for success included taking action to build momentum towards this effort; and to “tell our tale” to more people via web presence.
Additionally, both participants and the facilitator noted that a stronger “knowledge workforce” would help move broadband into rural areas as demand for broadband increased. This included marketing the importance of education and career opportunities to parents of students (such as PLTW and C4M); developing a highly regarded public school system; increasing awareness of career pathways, especially those with local employment opportunities; and shifting the cultural expectations of the value of education and work.
All of these points depend on “getting the word out”—and the last point was to market our local efforts to attract new residents, spur job creation and increase investments in Natchitoches Parish. The Chamber leads efforts in marketing local assets (such as a growing fiber optic network from one provider and enhanced speeds from another) and continues communication with not only local providers, but those considering increasing services in our area, such as AT&T. Knowing services can only be expanded as demand grows (providers cannot build out networks without customers) our conversations have turned to identifying areas of collaboration and exploring grant funding that we hope will expedite this process to better serve our underserved rural areas with low customer bases.
This is an ongoing effort and we look forward to updating the citizens of Natchitoches Parish.
Tony Davis, President
Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce