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Friday, March 18, 2011 - 9:40am

Leaders Talk Broadband, Jobs

North Georgia has seen major population gains over the last decade. But parts of the region north of metro Atlanta have been playing catch-up with technology. The area's now in the middle of a big push to get plugged-in for the economic benefits.

This week a one-day conference in Dahlonega brought together technology executives, local government officials and Governor Nathan Deal to talk about how the region can better connect growing technology to economic development. The event hosted by North Georgia College included officials with technology companies Microsoft and Intel.

Nancy Cobb says out-of-state companies are on the doorstep, ready to expand into that area of the state.

“I think you will see them gravitate to that area of the state. Because they’ll have the infrastructure, they’ll have the natural resources and amazing quality of life.”

Cobb is executive director of OneGeorgia Authority, which gives out economic development grants and loans to communities.

She says over the past year and a half, Georgia’s received more than $150 million from the federal governmennt for broadband projects. And a big chunk of that cash has gone to a major fiber optic network in northwest Georgia, and one east of there.

Cobb says the Appalachain Valley Fiber Network is a $26.5 million broadband project--with about $21 million in federal money. It covers 14 counties in northwest Georgia and extends into Alabama. The larger North Georgia Network project costs $42 million total, with about $33.5 million in federal money. That network includes 260 miles of fiber bandwidth, covering 12 far north Georgia counties to the North Carolina state line.

Greg Laudeman of Ga Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute spoke to a north Georgia group earlier this year. He says now’s the time for its businesses to learn how technology upgrades can hasten their own expansion:

“This network is going to provide them more of a level playing field...I’d say it’s even more of a springboard that they can get a competitive advantage. Of course the challenge is now that they have to look at more technology investment. The network doesn’t do anything just by itself.”

The region is looking to revitalize, as a number of counties have jobless rates of 11 percent or higher.

There are other broadband expansion projects in Georgia. OneAuthority Georgia's Cobb says one of the first was in southwest Georgia. She says there are others in east Georgia's Columbia County and middle Georgia.

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