Report: Broadband adoption will help grow rural economies

A recent analysis shows how expansion and adoption of internet services in three northwestern Missouri counties could help grow their economies in the decade ahead.

The report, “Economic Benefits of Expanding Broadband in Missouri: Atchison, Gentry and Worth Counties,” makes the case for public and private investment in rural broadband, said Alan Spell, assistant extension professor in agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri.

The report also highlights the value of efforts to encourage adoption of broadband once the infrastructure is in place, Spell said.

“We know that broadband benefits our communities, but we don’t necessarily know how much,” he said. “This analysis gives us an idea in hopes that it will increase community, education and support efforts to expand local broadband access. It also gives us some benchmarks and goals to set.”

The analysis was prepared as part of MU Extension’s collaboration with local economic developers and the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments, which serves the three counties studied in the report as well as Nodaway and Holt counties.

“This work will help transform our communities’ health, education, agriculture, and economic opportunities,” said Kimberly Mildward, economic development planner with the Regional Council. Using the UM System Broadband Initiative’s Digitally Connected Community Guide, the group hopes to bring affordable high-speed internet to the region and encourage the use of broadband applications. The project received support through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.

“This study showed us that even relatively small gains in internet adoption can make a huge amount of difference and be a big boon to our local economy,” Mildward said.

The study also estimated significant annual employment increases. With minimum broadband adoption, Gentry and Atchison counties would see annual job increases averaging 1.3% and 1.4%, respectively, over 2019 levels. Worth County’s annual job increases averaged 1.6% above 2019 levels. With broadband adoption gains of 20 percentage points, annual employment increases for the three counties averaged 2.9% to 3.0% above 2019 levels.

“All of this has a powerful impact on our lives, opportunities and economies over time,” Mildward said.