The Ottumwa Courier

September 26, 2012

Pursuing tools vital to business

Supervisors, community leaders: High-speed, modern computer service equals economic growth

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The city and the county agree: If you want decent jobs here, you need to have what companies are looking for.

That’s one of the reasons given by the Ottumwa City Council and the Wapello County Board of Supervisors for agreeing to help bring fiber optics, a  high-speed, ultra-modern computer service, to the area.

The groups were asked to kick in $5,000 each toward the first step. A study to figure out what we have, what we need and how we’re going to get it.

David Barajas Jr., director of Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, went to both boards this week to ask for a contribution. His agency helps bring jobs to the area by recruiting new companies or by helping existing businesses expand.

The study will cost about $42,000. He now has a promise of $10,000 toward the research.

“This is helpful to David as he is going forward to meet with potential new businesses,” said Brad Little, CEO of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation.

He said his own nonprofit was offering support to Barajas’ plan because it improved infrastructure and the opportunity for more employment.

“These communication tools are as vital as railroad or the Interstate Highway [System],” said County Supervisor Greg Kenning on Tuesday.

Barajas said when railroad tracks were first being built in this country, it was expensive. But where the railroad went, commerce followed.

Supervisor Jerry Parker voted in favor of supporting the study. In fact, the votes were unanimous from the supervisors and the council. But first, Parker wanted to know what was going to happen with the study.

He said he’s seen a lot of studies over the year. Many of them, even ones done well, end up going nowhere.

“I guarantee you that is not going to happen [where the study] sits on a shelf gathering dust,” Barajas said.

Because to move forward as a community, and to be competitive as a place to invest, we must meet some basic requirements — access to transportation, like a highway, railroad or airport, for example.

Now, one of those necessities is heavy duty broadband, which can serve businesses.

Having the study completed can tell leaders what’s needed, but can also be used in grant applications as the community looks for assistance modernizing its Internet capabilities. This is not going to be a cheap project, or a quick one, Barajas said, but it is an important one.

“Companies [already] here are telling me they need this,” he added. “Our number one priority is ... supporting existing businesses in the community. Bringing in new business, that seems to be the more glamorous part of economic development. But 80 to 85 percent of new jobs come from businesses that are already here.”

That’s what Fairfield and Oskaloosa do, Barajas said. They currently have fiber optics for everyone.

“I think this would benefit every business in town,” said Supervisor Steve Siegel, “and potentially every home in the community.”