The economy and job prospects loom large on everyone's mind,

and particularly in the greater North Country region of New York state, which has seen more than its fair share of changes that impact the quality of life and opportunities for people to live in a region they want to call home. 

The Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work hosted by Clarkson University represents a group of energized regional leaders and working professionals committed to responsible and sustainable economic growth by encouraging greater broadband adoption in the Adirondack Park and surrounding region.  

"Our vision is to advance creative work and lifestyle choices by promoting technology and services that encourage telework, green tech commerce and entrepreneurship from home offices with minimal impact on the natural environment we value so much," says Clarkson President Tony Collins. "We want to preserve the unique character of the Adirondack Park while advancing economic opportunities."

The Adirondack Park was established in 1892 as a regulated forest preserve. As one of the largest environmentally protected lands in the country, the Adirondack Park is a unique microcosm where regulating agencies, 103 municipalities and residents delicately balance commercial development with preservation of the natural landscape. This balancing act preserves the unique environment of the Park but also limits introduction of large-scale industry and makes the region heavily dependent upon tourism jobs that fluctuate with the seasons. 

Enter the opportunity to partner entrepreneurial pursuits with broadband technology to create new jobs and establish an infrastructure to support remote and teleworkers.

2,019 by 2019

Working with Clarkson, the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) and SLIC Network Solutions have recently received federal grants that support broadband development in rural areas. With initial funding secured to develop broadband access in parts of the region, the next step is to encourage people to use it once it is available.

In fact, one of the challenges of "wiring" the Adirondacks is that even when access is available, many people don't use it. In 2009, only one in three Adirondack North Country properties with broadband access tapped the service - half of the national average. 

adk_quoteAnother challenge to face is the balance of home ownership. As the number of second and third family homes approaches 50 percent of all residential properties in the Park, a cyclical consumer base impacts the vitality of many services that assist year-round residents as well as tourists. 

Kelly Chezum, vice president for External Relations and one of the project leaders says, "By 2019, our goal is to add 2019 broadband teleworkers and entrepreneurs to the region who engage in sustainable economic opportunities that will strengthen broadband access, grow the occupancy base of homes in the region and add value to the communities of people who are passionate about the region."

To launch the initiative, Clarkson hosted the first "Forever Wired" conference in September, which attracted over 250 professionals from across the country. A second conference is planned for Tuesday, September 7, 2010, with a similar scope to promote broadband adoption. 

The initiative gives Clarkson the opportunity to help the economy grow by partnering with agencies building the infrastructure, assisting entrepreneurs with their business plans and attracting teleworkers to the region through its vast corporate and alumni networks. It will also support the University's commitment to attract high-quality faculty and administrative talent, as well as students, who seek meaningful connections to the global business community while embracing the region's unspoiled nature and outdoor recreation.

The "Essential Utility" for the 21st Century

Clarkson is currently seeking nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus funding for educational outreach and broadband development activity. "We're trying to promote the use of broadband as an economic development tool within the Adirondack and North Country region," says Kevin Lynch, Clarkson's director of network services and a leader on the project.

Extending broadband to remote areas in the Adirondacks, Lynch says, is very much like the push in the 1930s to electrify rural areas throughout the United States. "Broadband has now become the essential utility that in order for there to be a level playing field, everyone needs access to it."

There are still pockets in the Adirondacks that don't have access, Lynch says, which really puts a community at a significant disadvantage. "Businesses without broadband are also at a disadvantage because they can't maintain a Web site or advertise online. "Much of the Adirondack economy is tourist-based, but if folks can't Google you, you almost don't exist."

Clarkson plans to help establish several business centers throughout the region to provide access to people who don't have access. "Our hope is that the business centers will help educate people through workshops and hands-on experience and add value to their lives and businesses by accessing and utilizing the Internet," says Lynch.

A Prototype Business Center

A prototype businesses center in Blue Mountain Lake is currently providing a test bed for some ways the business centers can be used, such as searching the Internet, making copies, checking e-mail, sending faxes and holding webinars.

Business centers can also serve as a way at-home workers can get some personal interaction with other telecommuters. In the future, they could also offer private office space for rent and provide a place for people to meet clients without having to invite them to their homes.

Lynch says having better broadband access could encourage seasonal Adirondack residents to spend more time there. "Business centers allow them to spend more time in the park, more time means more money, which drives economic development."

In the off-season, the centers could be used to retrain the permanent residents and give them skills to improve their economic standing, like teaching them how to build Web sites or start an e-business.

A Connected Adirondack Lifestyle

Better Internet access could also help existing businesses. "If business and craftspeople in the Adirondack Park had broadband access," Lynch says, "they would be accessible year-round instead of just seasonally." Many Adirondack business owners, he says, make 70 percent of their sales in 10 weeks, with little they can do to make money in the off-season. "That makes it very hard to maintain economic viability," Lynch says. "You just can't do it."

Finally, promoting telecommuting as a career option could help keep graduates from the region's 23 colleges close to their alma maters. "We really think there's a nice lifestyle pitch here, too. We're promoting this connected Adirondack lifestyle, where you can enjoy the great outdoors and still make a good living."