small_townTen communities in six Appalachian states will receive technical assistance from an inter-agency Obama administration program aimed at using broadband to revitalize downtown areas.  The Obama Cool and Connected program taps resources within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC is a regional economic development agency established by an act of Congress in 1965 that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government.

“Cool and Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work and play,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in an EPA press release about the Obama Cool and Connected program. “We’re excited to be working with these local leaders and [using] broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”

The 10 communities will be assisted by a team of experts that will help them develop strategies and an action plan for “using expected or existing broadband to create connected, economically vibrant main streets and small town neighborhoods.” Revitalizing existing downtowns also protects the environment by helping to preserve open spaces and farmlands, noted the EPA press release.

Obama Cool and Connected Projects
Communities chosen to receive assistance and how they plan to use it include:

  • Haleyville, Ala: To promote business recruitment and development and diversify the economy. The project will connect the library and City Hall to people through digital archives and e-government initiatives.
  • Portsmouth, Ohio: To help the Southern Ohio Port Authority use their historic and commercial districts’ broadband and public Wi-Fi capabilities to increase the number of people who walk and open businesses. The plan will also connect downtown amenities to recreation areas by using information kiosks and QR Code/smart phone technology.
  • Zanesville, Ohio: To increase new employment opportunities, support an emerging arts scene, and develop an app for visitors to explore their walkable downtown.
  • Clarion, Penn.: To increase their local communications capacity to market nature-based tourism, motivate people to invest along the historic Main Street, and create an incentive for students at Clarion University to stay in the community.
  • Curwensville, Penn.: To support the Curwensville Regional Development Corporation in creating a downtown co-working space for professionals, students, or entrepreneurs to use as an alternative to working from home or commuting long distances.
  • Erwin, Tenn.: To help the city and Erwin Utilities develop a comprehensive marketing plan for their downtown broadband connection, with the goal of attracting young professionals, visitors, and investors.
  • Jonesville and Pennington Gap, Va.: To market and develop Wi-Fi zones, extend broadband service, and promote main street development by attracting potential anchor tenants.
  • Bluefield, W. Va.: To develop a plan for their downtown area to take advantage of the available broadband and market their businesses through the best outlets.
  • Weirton, W. Va: To help the local library and community partners develop a plan to increase and expand broadband services and Wi-Fi zones, in order to bring visitors, new families, and businesses to the downtown area.
  • Williamson, W. Va.: To support the Williamson Health and Wellness Center in leveraging broadband access and Wi-Fi zones downtown and at educational institutions. The aim is to cultivate a skilled workforce, help people open businesses, and enhance the use of heath care technology.

The projects announced today follow on five pilot projects that were announced back in May.

Among those projects was one in Montrose, Colorado that involved a co-working facility in the downtown area. According to a fact sheet on the EPA website, that facility already has proven to be very popular.

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