A new voice for broadband — rural community groups

April 5—The county may soon have another key ally when it comes to advocating for better broadband connectivity.

During Monday’s meeting of commissioners, Mike McLean updated the board on renewed interest from six community clubs in the county to have a wider voice on issues affecting rural areas.

As the recently elected chairman of the Haywood Community Development Council, McLean asked how the organization could become more involved in helping secure state funding for broadband in areas where it is needed.

“We ask the commissioners to provide us with updates, timelines and a formal plan for broadband in Haywood County, which is the greatest common need for rural communities,” McLean said.

Decades ago, Community Development Clubs were formed in Haywood through the Cooperative Extension Service so that less populated areas outside the municipalities could work better together to achieve common goals. One of the first tasks of a community development club was to build or find a location for a community center where residents could gather for everything from fun events to fundraisers to centers where services could be provided.

Each club has statutes and elects officers and is funded by a small annual contribution from county commissioners, cash awards which can be earned through an awards program at WNC Communities, but most importantly fundraising events organized by the clubs.

These events include everything from half marathons, grant applications, festivals, facility rentals, bluegrass concerts, and the list goes on.

The numbers are rising

Communities with active clubs include Beaverdam, Bethel, Cruso, Fines Creek, North Hominy and Pigeon. Two more clubs are being formed, McLean said – one in Saunook and the other in Hazelwood.

In addition to a separate club in each organized community, there is also a county council where the community club president and another representative meet quarterly to exchange ideas and discuss issues affecting all clubs.

In recent years, county council membership has shrunk to just two active members, McLean said, he and Karen Hammett of the Fines Creek Community Development Club.

Working again with Bill Skelton and later Julie Sawyer at the Cooperative Extension Service, the old bylaws were dusted off and a countywide meeting was held in November to decide if there was any interest in reinvigorating the board.

“Clubs overwhelmingly endorsed the council’s continued work to improve communication between county commissioners and each club,” McLean said, noting he was elected council chairman, Ann Crawford of Cruso Community Development. Club was elected Vice-President and a Secretary/Treasurer position is still open.

Minutes were found showing the council was very active in the 1980s and 1990s, McLean said, and there was broad agreement to move forward.

“Our needs are for new volunteers, a way to interface with county commissioners, but especially broadband. If we don’t have broadband, it can be a real bottleneck for activities,” he said. he declares. To that end, the board has been working with WNC communities, holding Zoom meetings and coffees to discern each club’s desire, he added.

There was broad agreement on the new direction of bringing broadband to homes that currently have subpar service, if any at all.

“Rural communities are usually the last to get full public service,” McLean said. “We have seen it in rural electrification. So what can we do to integrate broadband? We would like to get more involved.”

Commission Chairman Kevin Ensley asked David Francis, the county’s community and economic development manager, to work with the council and suggested that one way clubs could help is to encourage those who don’t have no service to call a broadband provider to inquire about service. He talked about a property he owned in Tennessee where broadband service was recently installed. Speaking with a company representative, he learned that the reason this happened was because the company kept track of the number of calls about a new service, and when an expansion opportunity arose. presented, she selected the areas where there had been the most calls.

Ensley told community development club representatives at the meeting that he appreciates their work.

“It really has an impact,” he said.

About Keneth T. Graves

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