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Hard evidence that the federal stimulus worked

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I keep hearing people say the federal stimulus package was a waste of money. It failed. It did no good for anybody.

That view is just plain wrong, especially if you consider the 250 or so homes and businesses in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties that every month are for the first time getting access to broadband Internet service because of stimulus money.

A few years back, Slic Network Solutions, Potsdam, a subsidiary of Nicholville Telephone Co., got a $33 million federal stimulus grant to wire parts of both counties that had no - or inadequate access to - broadband Internet service. They’ve put that money to good use wiring communities that until recently were in the technological dark ages.

Their massive broadband deployment will have a dramatic impact on our economic landscape.

Ten years ago, broadband Internet access was considered a nice thing to have to lure companies and jobs. These days, it’s a necessity. Anyone who works in economic development will tell you that companies simply won’t locate in a place where they aren’t wired to the rest of the world.

Even if you believe that having broadband Internet service won’t improve our chances of landing industry, consider that there is a growing group of professionals who are employed because of their Internet connections.

They work for companies of all sizes, but they don’t put on a suit and get in the car to drive to work every morning. They work from home because they have good enough Internet access to share data, hold teleconferences, and stay connected to their companies and clients.

They are software developers, data collectors, salespeople, bookkeepers, medical billing coders, and a host of other professions. These telecommuters have good paying jobs, with good benefits, without having to leave the house.

My husband, a software developer, is one of them. After he went back to school for an information technology degree, he was really worried about being able to find work in the area. We were both afraid we would have to move away so he could find a job.

SUNY Canton, fortunately, was able to put him in touch with the company he works for now, whose chief executive officer is based in Albany. We were able to stay here, close to our roots and our families, as a direct result of our access to high-speed Internet.

At Clarkson University’s recent Forever Wired conference, a host of economic development and telecommunications professionals emphasized that telecommuters are the best chance the north country has for growth.

Being able to work remotely means our young people won’t have to leave the area to find work. Nobody will have to worry about a company polluting our pristine landscape, because even though they have workers here, they aren’t located here. Companies can put people to work without the overhead expense of setting up a physical location close to their workers.

Slic took that $33 million and used it to not only grow its own company — they’ve gone from 24 full-time employees to 48, and eventually hope to have 60 — but have opened a world of employment possibilities for north country residents and have given small businesses the opportunity to market their products and services to a worldwide audience.

If that’s not hard enough evidence that the stimulus package wasn’t a dismal failure that helped nobody, I don’t know what is.

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