It’s still early in the coronavirus pandemic, but already there are indications of this event causing long-term changes in the ways we live and work.
One is that far more Americans are experiencing working from home, also called telecommuting, teleworking and working remotely. In normal times, it includes working at any place that doesn’t involve physically commuting to a central place of employment.
Counties like Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany that are well equipped with broadband internet service to accommodate working remotely could be strategically positioned to experience growth in this way of doing business.
Broadband internet, including fiber-optic, is the preferred form of internet because of its high access speeds.
This northwestern corner of North Carolina stands out on maps depicting parts of the state with widely available broadband internet. For this we can thank Wilkesboro-based Wilkes Communications for aggressively seeking federal grant funding to make this possible.
(Unfortunately, there are still pockets within North Wilkesboro that lack broadband because they weren’t covered by grants targeting rural internet access.)
During the March 13 Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting, EDC Board Chairman Terry Bumgarner noted that many communities say they have internet service and what they really have is slow telephone internet. “That’s an underserved community. We’re blessed with what we have with our partners,” said Bumgarner.
Dr. Jeff Cox, Wilkes Community College president, said WCC’s development strategy for its service area (Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany) includes a message that says, “Northwest N.C., we’re telework ready.” Cox said it’s clear that northwestern N.C. is where a company’s focus should be if it wants to telework.
Wilkes EDC President LeeAnn Nixon said the concept of a WCC initiative focused on training people for high income teleworking jobs is starting to emerge. Nixon said this could also include a co-working facility that supports a remote workforce by providing resources and tools not available at home.
She said working remotely is feasible in many career fields, but they include health care, customer service, back office, project management and finance. Wilkes already has a large number of people engaged in teleworking.
Cox said that when he shared this concept with Ray Russell, an Appalachian State University professor, state representative and creator and owner of “Ray’s Weather,” Russell mentioned the possibility of attracting satellite operations of companies like SAS, an analytics software provider.
Russell said companies like SAS have project teams that could be drawn with a “high end” facility. Grants could help create this in a downtown building.
Nixon said this concept also ties in well with promoting an outdoor economy. Many companies using teleworkers want to be able to provide a lifestyle with great outdoor amenities.
In addition to broadband internet access, Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties have convenient access to bountiful outdoor recreational opportunities and outstanding public school systems. They’re very beautiful and very safe places to live.
With sincere apologies to Ashe for plagiarizing its great county slogan, this is the coolest corner of North Carolina.