A plan announced last week by U.S. Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear to develop a significantly more robust broadband Internet infrastructure in eastern Kentucky promises to present more opportunities for people looking for work — including those seeking work-from-home opportunities like those offered through Kentucky Teleworks.
A subsidiary of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), Kentucky Teleworks has helped hundreds of area residents find full-time and part-time employment in work-from-home jobs with remote employers across the nation and globe. Currently, more than 18,000 people have sought such opportunities by registering to search for telework jobs on its website, www.kentuckyteleworks.com.
That number is poised to grow as a result of actions stemming from the Jan. 22 joint announcement by Rogers and Beshear of the plan to invest an estimated $100 million to install more than 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable over the course of the next two to three years to bolster Internet connectivity in the region.
The “Super I-Way” plan will be supported through $60 million in state bonds and $40 million in federal and private sources, and will level the playing field between the state’s more connected urban centers and less-connected rural counties, said Beshear, who announced the plan alongside Rogers in a press conference streamed live on the Internet.
“It’s an ambitious plan to extend high-speed broadband Internet access to the furthest reaches of the commonwealth, with the initial focus, phase one, being in eastern Kentucky,”Beshear said.
EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead praised the plan, saying funds directed at developing broadband infrastructure across the state is a positive step, and one that can help Kentucky Teleworks fulfill its mission to bring high-demand and high-growth jobs to the people who need them most.
“This is the kind of forward-thinking action needed for our region and can be a real game-changing step toward reinventing Eastern Kentucky in many ways,” Whitehead said. “For Kentucky Teleworks and for our citizens, it will open up greater opportunities to work within the region for companies around the globe. This investment will pay great dividends.”
Kentucky Teleworks President Tom Higgins echoed those sentiments, saying the announcement could not have come at a more opportune time.
“By the end of this month, we will launch a fully revamped and rebranded online service, TeleworksUSA, at www.teleworksusa.com, aimed at continuing to provide expanded telework job opportunities for the region while also providing that service more strongly across the state and nation,” Higgins said. “Our renewed efforts will dovetail nicely with Gov. Beshear’s and Rep. Rogers’ announcement of a plan to bolster Internet connectivity in our region.”
Features to be included on the new TeleworksUSA website include a more intuitive user interface, mobile device compatibility, virtual resume building, editable jobseeker profiles, web-based telework job-preparedness training, improved telework job-searching capabilities, and direct contact options between telework jobseekers and employers.
Additionally, telework employers will be able to search TeleworksUSA’s growing database of jobseekers to find and hire those with the right attributes for jobs with their companies.
At the press conference, Beshear said that speed, capacity and affordability are also important components, as residents living in rural communities can ultimately expect the same access to faster Internet speeds that residents in urban centers currently enjoy.
That, in turn, will present eastern Kentucky’s residents with more opportunities for employment in the teleworks field, which requires a high-speed broadband connection. At present, Kentucky ranks 46th nationally in broadband access with more than 20 percent of the state’s residents having no access to a high-speed Internet connection.
The announcement was made just days after Congress approved a spending bill — crafted in part by Rogers — that sets aside $10 million to improve broadband connectivity in distressed Appalachian counties in four states, focusing on counties currently experiencing economic distress in the wake of the coal industry downturn.
Kentucky Teleworks is helping to alleviate some of the economic pain of job losses in the coal industry through ongoing opportunities for online work-from-home jobs. And leaning on advances in technology can be a tool to continue to diversify Eastern Kentucky’s economy, Whitehead added.
“Through technology, major corporations don’t have to move here for our people to be able to work with them,” Whitehead said. “Through technology, our mountains are no longer obstacles. They are attractions.”
For more information about Kentucky Teleworks, visit www.kentuckyteleworks.com. Find Kentucky Teleworks on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kentuckyteleworks.
For more information about EKCEP and the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network, visit www.ekcep.org and www.jobsight.org. Find EKCEP and JobSight on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ekcep and www.facebook.com/jobsight.