Western Governors Focus on Digital Vibrancy of Rural Communities

Las Vegas, NV – The focus on the pivotal role broadband plays in government and local communities was one of the clear messages heard during the Western Governors Association meeting that took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. North Dakota Governor and WGA Chair Doug Burgum delivered opening remarks for the WGA winter meeting stating, “We are going to triple our computing power in the next four years and what does that mean? We are in a place and time where innovation is changing every job and every industry faster than we can comprehend.”

Western communities are typically characterized within the technology ecosystem as being invisible, bridges to no-where, and hard to match up to current market models. However, Land O’Lakes CEO, Beth Ford, emphasized that “the lack of broadband access today is unacceptable. It is urgent, and every day it is leading to lack of opportunity in rural communities.”

Dean Kamen, co-founder of First Foundation created to inspire young people to enter STEM fields, expressed his concerns about the country’s future workforce. “We don’t have an education problem, we have a culture problem. Be part of the culture that makes science, technology, and engineering seem exciting and accessible to kids. Put it in a format that makes them want to participate.”

Still others at the WGA cited technology related opportunities. During the energy roundtable, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt stated “there is no better place for research and energy technology than the West. Adding that the West has, “conditions and resources unlike anywhere else in the country and boundless potential for growth.”

Discussions about digital access was tempered by emerging issues with cyber security and supply chain vulnerabilities. Michael R. Howard, Head of Security Practice, HP Inc., recommended sustained cyber hygiene making “security the number one evaluation when purchasing anything that touches your network.”

Governor Doug Burgum added that within the North Dakota state government they found some systems had no security as they were installed pre-internet.

“My takeaway from the WGA was that the conversations about digital access could have been about tribal communities. Tribes have that in common with state governments. I am hoping that future WGA meetings include additional conversations around Tribal/State relations. I was pleased that the agenda included a dialogue about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This epidemic is a public safety issue that crosses Tribal, state, and federal jurisdictional boundaries and will involve the government, public, and private sectors to address,” states Loris Taylor, President/CEO, Native Public Media.

Chaired by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, other Western Governors attending WGA were WGA Vice Chair Kate Brown, Oregon; Doug Ducey, Arizona; Jared Polis, Colorado; David Ige, Hawaii; Brad Little, Idaho; Steve Bullock, Montana; Steve Sisolak, Nevada; Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma; Kristi Noem, South Dakota; and Gary Herbert, Utah.

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