Saturday, April 30, 2005

Flattening World Explains Need for Fiber to the Home

New York Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman's Friday column makes a pretty compelling case for why the LUS fiber to the premises project is critical to the economic viability of Lafayette.

It goes like this: Technology is flattening the world. That is, it is knocking down barriers to participation in the economy, thereby making the economy truly global — that is, it is enabling people to live just about anywhere in the world and participate in and contribute to the world's economy.

So, when we think about economic development — and the battled for competitive advantage that rests at the heart of that process — we have to understand that Lafayette is not just competing against Baton Rouge or Birmingham or Austin. We are competing against Shanghai, China, Bangalore, India, Singapore and other distant communities in what is really a global competition for talent.

Here's a relevant passage from Friedman's column:
"For the first time in our history, we are going to face competition from low-wage, high-human-capital communities, embedded within India, China and Asia," President Lawrence Summers of Harvard told me. In order to thrive, "it will not be enough for us to just leave no child behind. We also have to make sure that many more young Americans can get as far ahead as their potential will take them. How we meet this challenge is what will define our nation's political economy for the next several decades."
Here's another:
Meeting this challenge requires a set of big ideas. If you want to grasp some of what is required, check out a smart new book by the strategists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled "The Only Sustainable Edge." They argue that comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship - the only sustainable edge.
Friedman goes on to note that there is a sense of urgency in China and India about catching up in the competition for talent. They are doing it by focusing on developing their own talent and through bringing home those who have ventured off to technology centers in U.S. and other countries to help build their own competitive advantage.

A consistent thread in the comments of those who oppose the LUS plan is 'what's the rush?' 'Let's wait and see what develops over the next five to ten years. Maybe something else will develop during that time which might give us something else to oppose.'

The fact of the matter is that Lafayette and Louisiana are net exporters of talent and IQ. We don't currently have the kind of economy that produces the opportunity and jobs that are enticing enough to convince our best and brightest college graduates to stay here.

About three years ago, I attended the U.L. Lafayette graduation ceremony for the Center for Advanced Computer Studies. There were about 55 graduates with masters degrees in computer science. Of those masters graduates, only ONE was staying in Lafayette and that was to pursue his Ph.D. ALL of the other students were leaving Louisiana and most of them were going to put their newly minted degrees to work in places like Texas and California.

They are leaving Lafayette (often with a heavy heart) to pursue challenging technology-based work in other communities where someone had a sense of urgency to create opportunity.

The opponents of the LUS project insist that we can afford to continue with business as usual; that we can grow our community while acting as a talent farm club for other, more aggressive cities who have a sharper appreciation the economic stakes at hand.

In the opponents' view, Lafayette should be content to be running somewhere near the rear of the middle of the pack of cities in the country currently ranked 14th in broadband access — and be damned grateful for even being ranked there.

What would Lafayette be like today if those who came before us had listened to the naysayers who claimed their plans to run their own utility system were too risky? What would Lafayette be like today if the local leaders who put up the money to start what has become UL Lafayette had surrendered to the doubters who said that Lafayette could not support a university? What would Lafayette look like today if Maurice Heymann had not believed that this city could develop into the hub of oil and gas activity in the northern Gulf of Mexico? What would Lafayette be like today if leaders here had allowed I-10 to pass through Opelousas instead of this city?

History shows that Lafayette is a city of optimists. When choices have presented themselves, citizens and leaders have stepped up to respond to them in a way that advanced the well-being of the community and set the stage for future growth. When Lafayette has invested in itself, it has prospered.

Today, in a rapidly changing, technology-driven global economy, the LUS fiber to the premises plan offers Lafayette the opportunity to make the kind of paradigm shifting investment that will change the way people on the outside world perceive this community. This generation will called upon to declare our own take on the prospects of this community.

A vote in favor of the LUS project is a vote of confidence in our own ability to build and grow a community that will be bold and imaginative enough to create the opportunities here that will make Lafayette a destination for talent — starting with our own children and grandchildren.

A vote against the LUS project is a vote to relegate Lafayette to a pool of largely indistinguishable mid-sized cities whose fortunes will rise and fall according to the whims of others.

So, we can succumb to the fear, uncertainty and doubt being desperately cast about by the opponents; or we can dare chart a positive course of our own making that, yes, has some limited risks, but has upside potential that dwarfs those risks.

I'm for Lafayette. I'm for building this city into a global cultural and economic leader. I'm for a Lafayette that provides the tools for every citizen — young or old, black or white, rich or poor, northside or southside — to develop their talents so that they contribute to the shaping of the future of this city.

I'm for fiber because I believe it is the essential economic infrastructure of the talent-driven, technology-borne global economy.

I'm for LUS because it alone has offered a plan to deliver access to this decisive infrastructure to ALL of Lafayette.

Tom Friedman says that meeting the challenges in front of us will require big ideas. The opponents of the LUS fiber to the premises plan have no ideas. They only have fear, uncertainty and doubt. All they have is "No."

What kind of community can you build on "No"?

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