PARKERSBURG – While the energy sector has served as a powerful engine of growth here in West Virginia since the Industrial Revolution, a new economic driver has made its way to the Mountain State: the internet.
Not only has the internet changed the way West Virginians live and work, but it also has provided an opportunity for small businesses and consumers to engage in global commerce.
Across the state, West Virginia businesses increasingly rely on the internet to market their products, and attract, retain, and connect with their customers. In downtown Parkersburg, this internet-enabled growth is thriving.
Just last year, Parkersburg was the site of a major investment to install high-speed broadband internet, turning the region into a ‘gig city’ with cutting edge infrastructure and connectivity.
The impact was immediate and powerful. Brick and mortar businesses on Market Street are now leveraging their online presence to reach new consumers and create jobs at ever-increasing rates.
A new local cafe, The Coffee Bar, is using the internet to distinguish themselves from the local competition and boost sales through an e-commerce platform. The cafe has made such a great impression that they’re now shipping coffee, supplies, and even branded t-shirts across the country. This growth means more good jobs here in Parkersburg.
Just down the road, the Schrader Youth Ballet Company is building on its reputation by engaging customers through a robust online presence. The studio uses Facebook to interact with and grow the dance community in the area. While similar businesses traditionally relied on word of mouth advertising, this studio has harnessed the power of the internet to solidify its brand.
It’s a similar story at the recently opened Parkersburg Brewing Co. From keeping the public updated on the construction of its new brew house to organizing events for local residents, this brewery is doing its part to revitalize downtown Parkersburg by communicating with West Virginians through social platforms.
The investments in broadband infrastructure have also attracted new businesses in the region. For example, Netranom, an IT networking company, recently opened a new facility in Parkersburg after seeing an opportunity to expand its portfolio of work to local businesses and utilize their high-speed connections.
The internet’s positive impact is evident on the ground in Parkersburg, as one of West Virginia’s largest hubs for internet-connected businesses. Policymakers must understand the significance of creating an environment that is hospitable to internet-enabled innovations. High-speed internet access is a pillar of modern business and an undeniable driver of economic growth in America.
Economic growth is only possible if we enable it, and policies that pursue broadband abundance and access can and should play a key role. Broadband access can revolutionize how West Virginians work and learn by linking rural communities to the national, and even global, economy.
It is essential that all communities have access to internet platforms that will help them connect and compete on a global scale. Now more than ever, it’s time to make smart investments that give rural America access to internet-enabled economic growth like what we’ve seen firsthand in Parkersburg.
Through her Capito Connect Plan, U.S. Senator Capito (R-W.Va.) is working to improve rural internet access. This column was co-written by her and Beckerman, who is president and CEO of the Internet Association which represents America’s leading internet companies.