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One Great Thing

I recently had a great time catching up with a dear friend who while originally from Charleston, West Virginia, has now lived out of state for over a decade. As we often do, we talk about what great opportunities West Virginia has had over the years and the various reasons why many have been missed. Be it vision, capital, protection of entrenched interests, etc., we all know there are many reasons why West Virginia has missed out on growth that has benefited many of our neighbors.

We talked about the potential impact of the stimulus package President Biden sought and was able to get through despite only one West Virginia congressional representative in support, Sen. Joe Manchin. This isn’t meant to be political, just a statement of fact as out of the package West Virginia and Charleston in particular will be getting hundreds of millions. Even Gov. Jim Justice broke with his party when he said “go big or go home” on President Biden’s stimulus proposal.

As my very astute friend noted, wouldn’t it be great to do one great thing here where we would lead the country, and it should be broadband. We aren’t talking about the mediocre setup we have now but lightning fast Singaporean-speed broadband. As in the world’s fastest. As in WiFi /5G and ready for even faster speeds. As in we could be the hub for remote workers, close to wonderful outdoor pursuits, fresh air and water, already a low-tax state and one where near-empty buildings are crying out for tenants.

We could be world class, with, yes, subsidized broadband so everyone can easily be connected at a modest charge, say $5 per month, but with speeds unlike any other. It takes vision, capital and political will. No doubt the West Virginia Legislature has other priorities, but when my friend and I talked, we dreamed what it would be like with 5,000 to 15,000 more well-paid, well-educated residents. Loads of youthful energy, more bikes, more outdoor dining, more hiking, tax resources to follow to improve our pothole-filled roads, greater support for our arts (think ArtWalks once a week during the season), more live music. Think more physicians living and working here performing more telehealth.

Add in revitalized neighborhoods, especially in downtown and on the West Side with apartment and condo developments geared toward a new economy. As I was in Morgantown last week and saw the amazing growth at WVU Health with construction cranes, all I thought about was why can’t we in Charleston grow and reform our medical communities here with advanced technologies such as telehealth and research, all of which require and demand the highest speeds of internet and computing powers. Why not a supercomputer and advanced medical research here with truly exceptional internet speeds, including processing and cloud storage facilities located in Charleston as a magnet for a merging technology and health care research community?

We can do it. We can be the best — not just catch up to other communities but to truly be world class. It takes leadership, vision and capital. Thanks to President Biden’s leadership we have the capital coming. The real question is what will we do?

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