Editorial: Trying to make it
Rural areas of Virginia and the United States as a whole have been trying to make it for generations. The brain drain, as youth and whole families left for better jobs in the cities, started during World War I.
Virginia now has a rural jobs council. It is high time the state take a look at stemming this tide. Generations of young residents of Gloucester and Mathews have found the phrase "rural jobs" to be a joke. They finish high school or college, and move away.
Some stay. Some have worked the water and made decent livings, but the promise of bounty from the Chesapeake Bay has dwindled along with the population of the edible species.
Some stay and find jobs at the shipyard, Langley, Fort Eustis, Naval Weapons Station, Canon, RockTenn, and other large industrial employers. To make this good living, they pay the price of long commutes to urban areas. They are in the majority of people in the local workforce. Most residents go outside their home counties to work.
Dr. Elizabeth "Sissy" Crowther, president of Rappahannock Community College, represents our area on the Virginia Rural Jobs Council. She says nothing can be accomplished until the rural areas get up to speed, literally, on the internet. This area especially, lacking interstates and railroads, has little to offer a potential employer except a motivated, honest and qualified pool of workers. But no one will come without reliable access to high-speed internet.
Better connections, Crowther said, could make a difference in building the local job base.
We wonder if a new agency along the lines of the Rural Electrification Administration could help in bringing affordable broadband to the region.
The REA sprang up in the Great Depression to help extend electrical lines to sparsely-populated rural areas which the utilities said would not be profitable to serve. Its successor is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, charged with providing public utilities such as electricity, telephone, water and sewer to rural areas in public-private partnerships. Perhaps our Virginia Rural Jobs Council could convince RUS to classify broadband internet service as a utility. That would be one way to provide the speed that industries would require to come here.
We wish the jobs council well, and even more, we hope it can identify ways to reverse the erosion of local jobs. Well-prepared young people graduate by the thousands each year from local high schools. When they leave, our area suffers the loss of residents, property taxes, and business. When they stay, they shop at home, study at home and work at home. The future looks brighter in every way.