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MOMENTUM
A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - September 2019

By Mary Jane Chew

This is the first of a two-part series on the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

Those who would join the effort to improve conditions in rural Indiana can find a treasure trove of data and partnerships provided through the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

Now approaching its 15th anniversary, the center has worked with faculty across the University to secure and execute a wide variety of grants that focus on poverty, e-connectivity, transportation, military families, regional/local economic development and workforce readiness.

"PCRD is a clear example of excellence in engagement," said Steve Abel, associate provost for engagement. "Through partnerships with communities, industry and government, PCRD catalyzes collaborative relationships that strengthen leadership and prosperity. Many PCRD resources reflect engaged scholarship that enhances learning and supports applied research.”

Lionel J. "Bo" Beaulieu, the director of the center, gets excited talking about the dozen projects underway and its intricate network of agencies that help the center capture an average of $2 million in grants and contracts each year.

A recent home run for PCRD is its effort to expand broadband to the many areas of the state that have no or limited access to broadband. The project was launched as a result of a request made by the Tipmont REMC for help in determining the demand for broadband in its service area in Indiana and conducting a related benefits-costs analysis.

Roberto Gallardo, PCRD assistant director, worked with Tipmont to map the current state of broadband availability. In addition, the center reached out to four Purdue agricultural economists: the late Wally Tyner, Alison Grant and Larry DeBoer to complete a costs-benefits analysis for the Tipmont REMC region and then a statewide study that the encompassed several other REMC areas; and Nicole Widmar to conduct a willingness-to-pay study of broadband customers in the Tipmont area.

Collectively, these studies helped piece together the DNA of broadband and found that for every dollar invested in bridging the digital divide, the benefit to the state and society would be $4. That's an expected return of $12 billion over two decades.

The Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives across the state and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb found the data convincing. They agreed to invest in broadband expansion in the state’s rural areas. Indiana is investing $100 million to incentivize broadband providers. Those providers who each put up a 20 percent match will receive up to $5 million to provide connectivity to their currently underserved areas. Federal funds also are available.

The state and federal governments will see returns through increased tax revenue and reduced health care expenditures. Residents will benefit from telemedicine and educational resources, especially for their children. More businesses will want to invest here and more people will have access to continuing and higher education, such as that available through Purdue Global.

"Now, the big challenge is adoption," Beaulieu. "That is where Purdue Extension comes in." Efforts are underway to improve broadband use and applications by small businesses and local governments in high need areas of the state. In addition, PCRD and Purdue Extension are working with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to guide small communities in the development and implementation of sound broadband plans.

Part 2 of the series (October) will focus on the breadth and variety of partnered initiatives that makes the PCRD a driving force for growth in the state and beyond.





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