• $75,000 in grants are funded by the Duke Energy Foundation

WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – The Purdue Center for Regional Development selected five Indiana counties to receive $15,000 grants to support “digital inclusion plans” to assess broadband access and needs.

The counties selected include Boone, Carroll, Dearborn, Greene, and Rush. The Purdue Center for Regional Development is working with the counties to write or expand their digital inclusion plans, which address broadband access, digital skills, and other needs. The center is dedicated to promoting regional collaboration, innovation, and prosperity, and developing broadband access is one of its initiatives.

“Before we can tackle a challenge, we need a road map and resources that show us where needs are and how we can fill the gaps,” said Dr. Roberto Gallardo, director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development. “With the support of the Duke Energy Foundation grant, we can provide the technical assistance that will help local communities develop or implement their plans to address digital exclusion today.”

“Insufficient access to broadband is an economic growth barrier,” said Molly Whitehead Executive Director of the Boone County Economic Development Corporation. “It impacts local business, our residents, and future workforce.”

According to Carroll County’s Economic Development Corporation, Carroll County’s experience with brain drain and low levels of digital growth can be traced back partly to its current lack of digital inclusion and broadband access. It is important for the community to build a digital inclusion plan to combat these issues and bring Carroll County to the level it could be.

“Making sure Dearborn County is connected goes far beyond bringing broadband service to their home or business. Do our residents have a suitable device to be productive digital citizens? Do they have the technological skills and understandings necessary to efficiently navigate an increasingly digital and rapidly advancing world? These are the issues One Dearborn hopes to help our community address with the help of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and Duke Energy Foundation,” commented Mike Perleberg, Executive Director of One Dearborn Economic Development.

Executive Director of Greene County Economic Development, Brianne Jerrels said, “We put a strong emphasis on population attraction when writing our digital inclusion plan due to the changes in the workforce brought on by remote work. Therefore, we want to better target the areas with the greatest need.”

Rush County’s task force and its partners used their inclusion plan to demonstrate the what, why, and how of digital inclusion. To date, their plan and associated project objectives have been used to seek and obtain additional funding for an internet essential skill-building project via webinars, virtual help sessions, and self-study tutorials.

The Duke Energy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Indiana’s largest electric supplier, partnered with Purdue to improve broadband access in some of the counties it serves.

“Whether it was remote work, distance learning, or telehealth, the pandemic reinforced the value of broadband access and highlighted a digital divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not,” said Stan Pinegar, Duke Energy Indiana state president. “As I visit community leaders and customers in our service area, the urgent need for improved connectivity inevitably comes up. We want to make sure that Indiana can compete in today’s rapidly digitizing economy and society. Internet access has become an essential part of everyday life.