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Leaning into the digital age

Roberto Gallardo, assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, explains the digital age and how to get involved during a community meeting Tuesday at the John H. Miller Community Center.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Scary and mind-boggling but exciting describe the future of the digital realm – and local communities need to be part of it.

That’s the message people here heard from Roberto Gallardo, assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension community and regional economics specialist. He spoke here Tuesday in a program coordinated by the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

Digital communication is exploding, Gallardo said. The telephone took 75 years to reach 100 million users; Facebook took four years; Pokémon GO, only one month.

“The biggest threat to community economic development is digital exclusion,” he said. “The digital economy is 18 percent of the U.S. economy and it is just getting started. The train has not left the station but when it does, it will just take off. Hopefully the community will have a change of mindset.”

The median income for digital employees is $114,274 and they do not have to be in a city: they can live in Connersville.

Artificial intelligence will become part of everyday life, he said. In only eight hours, robots can be taught to learn to read an X-ray or CT scan – and are better than humans at it.

The move to bring digital to rural areas will be driven by farmers who know that using old technology to check weather and markets, to spread fertilizer and drive tractors is no longer good enough, Gallardo said.

Smart phones will be obsolete by 2025. People will be able to use glasses to do what smart phones can do, but it cannot be done on a 3 megabyte connection, he said.

His wife asked why there is a need to move to a 25-megabyte internet. He said that question is similar to a question that might have been asked 100 years ago: “Why do I need electricity when I already have candles?”

No one wants a driverless car to buffer while driving down the road.

Many towns similar to Connersville got a start using the power of a river for industry. Today’s river is the power of technology, Dan Parker, Fayette County Economic Development Group, director, said on Wednesday.

“If we don’t get involved and become proactive about ensuring our current situation, but more importantly the future of our kids and grandkids, we’re going to be an outlier left in the dust,” he explained. 

Mayor Harold Gordon said someone told him the move by the schools to more computerization means some students in the rural areas cannot do homework at home. They have to come into Connersville for an internet connection

For residents to be able to take advantage of online retail or services, a high level of internet service will be needed, he said. Technology will make it so more people can work from Fayette County.

Parker said the rural area with its amenities of the river, low crime rate and low cost of housing can attract millennials because it is a nice place to be if there is the ability to work from home using the Internet.

The group of people of business owners, civic leaders and elected officials at the meeting can lead the project along, he said. The EIRPC and Purdue will help shepherd the next steps.

The EDG has been working with local businessman Alex Carroll. His business, in addition to Lifeline Farms, is data storage and he visits Silicon Valley businesses regularly. He believes the county can start a tech incubator in EDG space, Parker said.

With Purdue helping the county create change, it can be done. There will be a need for more public awareness.

Gordon said elected officials at the meeting are willing to begin moving forward into the digital age.

With fiber optics being the backbone of bringing digital opportunities to the community, Parker said there are ways to facilitate that, using public-private partnerships. Gallardo cited a town in Mississippi that brought the fiber to the community that now is paid for and returning revenue to the government.

“If we’re willing to wade through this as a community, Dan or Harold aren’t going to make it happen, but if we all work together and realize this is the equivalent of moving away from water power to electricity, we can do it,” he said. “We’ve got to do it.”