Poverty in Mississippi is nothing new– especially across the Delta. If you spend enough time there, you realize different aspects that perpetuate the income issues there: lack of businesses, food deserts, and lack of broadband.
Lack of broadband access is part of the reason why there is a lack of businesses that could be driving jobs and revenue into these areas, according to NeighborWorks America CEO Paul Weech.
“The digital divide is apparent not just in areas but across regions,” said Weech. “It is critical that we have a strategy for expanding broadband in these areas.”
Weech said oftentimes, businesses overlook rural areas like the Delta because so much of day-to-day activities are carried out on the Internet.
However, lack of broadband doesn’t just impact bringing businesses into the area.
“We have heard stories of children who could not do their homework at home,” said Weech. “After school, at night, they’d sit on the steps of the school because that’s the only place they could find Wi-Fi nearby.”
Weech said broadband accessibility is a large portion of the problem, but it isn’t the only issue. Lack of financing options play a big part in deterring businesses from rural areas.
Non-profits like NeighborWorks and their partners across the country have looked for ways to bridge the financial gap for those seeking business opportunities in rural areas.
“They’ve sought to create lending options,” said Weech. “They’ve built a network amongst themselves, with other non-profits, to give back to the community.”
While NeighborWorks was able to attract $3.1 billion dollars in investments for rural areas last year, in many states they have more than one partner.
In Mississippi, they only have one partner, Hope Enterprise, based in Jackson.
“But they do a phenomenal job of bringing together the community,” said Weech. “And that’s what we need–nonprofits that can network together for the better of the community.”