BONNEVILLE Ky. – When you think of remote work opportunities, Owsley County probably does not come to mind.
But the small county, tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky, has become a prime example of the power of broadband connectivity.
Through the work of Teleworks USA, a Grassroots Partner of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), and the support of the Owsley County Action Team, more than 150 people are working remotely in Owsley County. This represents more than $3 million in new wages being paid to citizens by remote-work companies.
“Owsley County has capable citizens who deserve the chance to earn good, full-time wages and benefits without having to travel significant distances to other areas of the region, and Teleworks USA helps deliver that opportunity to them thanks to the endless job opportunities in the digital economy through our hiring partner companies,” said Michael Cornett, director of agency expansion and Teleworks USA for the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc.
What has happened in Owsley County was one of a perfect storm. The county is served by Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), which used a $20 million loan from the USDA Rural Utility Service, a $25 million grant and loan from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), and $5 million in capital funding in 2008-09 to spread 1,000 miles of fiber in Jackson and Owsley counties, making both a gigabit county.
PRTC built the network, and the jobs are coming.
“Because of the robust gigabit fiber broadband service provided by PRTC, we have no capacity issues as far as being able to conduct workshops and trainings,” added Cornett. “Because of the connectivity, those who obtain jobs through the hub can transition to home, creating more opportunities for others to obtain training and employment. It’s exactly how our model is supposed to work.”
Carla Gabbard, the manager of the Booneville Teleworks Hub, said local officials just didn’t crack the door open for new opportunities. They took a wide-open approach.
“I have people coming into the hub everyday telling me how that Teleworks has changed their lives,” said Gabbard. “With the jobs they have obtained through Teleworks, they have been able to buy cars, houses, remain in their hometown and work from the comfort of their home.”
Molly Turner, executive director of the Owsley County Action Team, Inc., said: “Teleworks has brought millions of outside dollars into the area to be spent locally, thereby assisting local businesses, as well as those who are employed. Local businesses have said that more money is being spent in their establishments and the tax base is improving.”
SOAR, through the Department of Local Government, awarded Wired Owsley County $95,200 in Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development (KARD) funding in 2016 to help get the project off the ground. This was coupled with the support of SOAR Grassroots Partner EKCEP, Jackson Energy, the Owsley County Fiscal Court, USDA Rural Development, and PRTC.
“Projects like these are so worthwhile because they demonstrate the power of connectivity and the important role it plays in creating employment opportunities, especially in rural areas of Appalachia Kentucky,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “This project is also special because the number of partners that came to the table to make it happen. That collaboration has led to a $3 million annual impact in Owsley County. That’s powerful, and that is what SOAR is all about. Empowering communities to capitalize on opportunities to make lasting impacts that transforms lives.”
SOAR filmed an episode of its “The Future of Appalachia” program at the Booneville Teleworks Hub on March 15. You can view the show here.