Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Broadband’s potential to drive economic development is without equal. By Gregg Gothreaux

When talking economic development, there’s little else that’s more exciting than the potential for broadband, generally, and fiber, specifically, to grow local businesses and attract new ones to the area.

Research by Strategic Networks Group, a Paris-based broadband econometrics firm, has shown that the economic impact of investments in broadband infrastructure can result in a tenfold increase in local GDP.

If that holds true in Lafayette, then our $100-million-plus investment in fiber could mean a $1 billion impact on our economy. A billion dollars in economic growth would translate into thousands of new high-quality jobs in industries like digital media, health care, energy and more.

Just like a hundred years ago when the residents of Lafayette created their own utility company, through fiber we’ve built an infrastructure that can drive local economic development for the next century.

So where is all this growth going to come from? Here are some of the primary categories:

• Local businesses being able to work better and faster
• Local businesses developing new revenue streams and service lines
• Local entrepreneurs developing next generation applications and services
• New companies moving to town because of access to bandwidth
• The world’s top Internet companies using Lafayette as a testbed
• The community-at-large finding new ways to enhance our quality of life

We’re already starting to see some of these things happen. Pixel Magic has opened a second location in Lafayette. Acadian Ambulance is growing from investments in new lines of broadband-powered business. Aerojet is considering utilizing Lafayette as a testbed for its next generation technology. And Lafayette welcomed 75 experts from around the world to last year’s FiberFête, a three-day event celebrating our fiber network and exploring the potential of fiber-powered communities.

And the potential for this growth to continue is limitless. Not only are there many ways in which growth can occur, but it can be applied to existing industries while simultaneously enabling new industries.

There’s arguably no business or organization that can’t benefit in some way from broadband — either through new efficiencies or new revenue — making it the most important infrastructure for economic development in Lafayette since electricity.

But despite all this promise, we also need to be patient as a community because, just like electrical service, this progress won’t happen overnight.

Additional SNG research has shown that the most significant gains from the availability of fiber networks tend to occur after at least two years of use because of the time organizations need to adopt new business models and to transform their operations for cost avoidance. And this process of transforming operations won’t be easy as it often requires significant rethinking of how business is done to take fullest advantage of the potential for growth.

We also must realize that this growth can sometimes be hard to quantify, as broadband is more an enabler of solutions than the solution itself. Put another way, people don’t benefit from broadband directly, they gain from the applications and services that broadband enables.

But despite these challenges, Lafayette’s “first-mover” position on having a fiber network creates tremendous opportunities for securing our community’s economic future.

By shrinking the time from when we deploy fiber to when we start using it in significant ways, we not only realize benefits sooner, but we also become a national leader that attracts the world’s best and brightest to build and test their technologies in our community.

By embracing the idea that fiber offers transformative potential for our business community and creates an environment that welcomes new technologies, we can position Lafayette as a leader in the 21st century economy.

LEDA is committed to driving this community’s growth through broadband and is working on multiple levels to achieve these goals.

Through the Opportunity Machine, LEDA is helping create an environment that’s conducive to the establishment and growth of technology-intensive businesses and start-ups. The OM is creating a technology ecosystem in Lafayette, centered on its members, which spreads throughout the community via education sessions, mentoring and coaching opportunities and community events.
Through FiberCorps, LEDA is supporting the development of Lafayette as a hub for fiber-powered innovation and as a testbed for next generation applications through projects supported by community coalitions demonstrating what fiber and broadband can do.

And through partnerships like the Lafayette Entertainment Initiative and the Louisiana Digital Gaming Initiative, LEDA is working to promote Lafayette’s story and attract new film production and digital media companies to our great community through outreach and networking.

It’s an exciting time to live and work in Lafayette, and I’m more optimistic than ever about the future of our economy.

In particular if we can extend our reputation as a community of innovators, entrepreneurs and wildcatters to the new worlds that broadband and fiber make possible, then the sky’s the limit for what we can achieve together.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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