OWEN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Thanks to the Regional Opportunity Initiatives program, four projects throughout the state will be given Digital Towns funding to help improve digital equity and inclusion for Hoosiers, and Owen County is on the list.

“The COVID public health emergency clearly showed that communities with inadequate connectivity and digital resources struggled to implement mitigation strategies such as e-learning and remote work,” said ROI Vice President of Economic and Community Development Lisa Abbott. “It has also become clear that digital inclusion strategies must be interwoven into community development efforts to allow individuals and businesses to thrive in our increasingly digitized society and economy.”

Of the four projects, three Indiana counties and two educational institutions will receive the funding. The counties include Owen, Crawford, and Washington while Ivy Tech Bloomington’s Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship and IU Kelley School of Business partner as a part of the Digital Hope+ program. 

Within Owen County, the funding will go to the Connect Program which will help to build a new co-working space in the town of Spencer and also begin a series of courses in social media mastery, skills development, QuickBooks, Excel, and digital branding to help residents improve their digital literacy. 

“Throughout the planning and grant application process, communities have embraced the value of digital readiness and have been eager to implement ways to develop digital resiliency for current residents and future Uplanders,” added Abbott. “We’re pleased to see these Digital Towns projects take shape and look forward to seeing how they impact residents in the Uplands in the coming years.”

Regional Opportunity Initiatives worked with the Purdue Center for Regional Development to study digital infrastructure in the area and find which locations could benefit from the funding the most and in which ways. A plan was developed to provide a roadmap for communities to advance broadband infrastructure and acquire computers and other needed equipment. 

Following that plan, the Regional Opportunity Initiatives built the framework for the Digital Towns program defining “Digital Towns”  as geographic and information spaces that adopt and integrate information and communication technologies in all aspects of town life. 

Applicants for Regional Opportunity Initiative’s Digital Towns grants were asked to align their submissions with three of the Digital Town Readiness dimensions which are as follows:

  • Digital Citizen refers to initiatives that help households connect to the internet, access devices, and grow competence in the usage of digital technologies to engage in internet services, e-commerce, educational opportunities, digital public services, and healthcare services.
  • Digital Business  relates to maximizing opportunities in the digital economy by enabling partnerships with businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Digital Public Services support collaborations between local units of government, nonprofits, and/or health care services to provide access to online information and/or services and telehealth access points.
The eight dimensions of the Digital Town Readiness Framework from “Digital Towns Accelerating and Measuring the Digital Transformation of Rural Societies and Economies.”

More details on each of the Digital Towns Projects and Programs are below:

  • Crawford County Public Access Wi-Fi Equity Program
    • The Crawford County Economic Development Partnership is collaborating with Crawford County School Corporation, Community Foundation of Crawford County, Crawford County Public Library, Breeden Memorial Library, Crawford County Government, and Mainstream Fiber to provide high-speed internet for residents who do not have access at home.
    • Locations for public Wi-Fi were carefully selected to ensure that Crawford County residents will not have to travel more than 15 minutes to a public access location. The grant will pay for installation, service, and maintenance for two years, and Mainstream Fiber has agreed to cover costs for the following two years.
    • The collaboration also plans to launch digital literacy workshops at locations throughout the county and an informational campaign designed to disperse information about how low-income households can access discounted broadband service plans.
  • Washington County Community Digital Literacy Classes and Hotspots
    • This partnership between the Washington Community Foundation, Salem Community Schools, Washington County Economic Growth Partnership, the Town of New Pekin, the City of Sale, and Ivy Tech Southeast will provide access and digital literacy skills training to Washington County residents.
    • Free and discounted digital literacy classes will be offered through Ivy Tech on various topics, including how to use the internet, smartphones, email, streaming devices, social media platforms, Google Suite, QR Codes, telehealth, and cloud storage.
    • Public Wi-Fi spots will also be installed throughout the county to provide access to those without home access. Locations for these hotspots will include a highly utilized walking trail near Salem High School, Salem Square, and Pekin Park. Installations will be completed by organizations donating time and expertise, and local providers have agreed to deliver the internet service to the hotspots at no charge.
  • Owen County Connect Program
    • To address the need for connectivity within the town of Spencer and enhance a new co-working space, the Owen County Chamber of Commerce is developing a fiber garden adjacent to its new building. The funding will cover hardware, software, and internet access for the public to use for free at the site.
    • In a partnership with Ivy Tech, the Chamber will also host training programs and events to address digital skill gaps, including social media mastery, skills development, QuickBooks, Excel, and digital branding.
  • Ivy Tech Foundation Digital Hope+ Program
    • A partnership between Ivy Tech Bloomington’s Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship and IU Kelley School of Business, Project HOPE will provide digital literacy training and assistance to small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local units of government in all 11 Uplands counties.
    • Initially, the partnership will provide basic digital literacy training for Uplands residents with limited experience using various media platforms, such as websites, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others. This programming aims to teach digital skill-building techniques and help participants identify which media platform best suits their individual, organizational, and/or business needs. Free classes will be available in both in-person and virtual formats, depending on community demand and circumstances. In-person consultations will occur at locations easily accessible to the public, such as libraries and community centers.
    • The program’s second phase will entail working directly with small businesses, nonprofit organizations, or local units of government to provide expertise and instruction on operating and doing business in the digital economy.
    • Small businesses and nonprofit organizations will be able to expand their customer/donor base online, reach markets outside their community, or leverage e-commerce platforms.
    • Local units of government will be able to expand access to online meetings, archive copies of transcriptions, and set up resident access to agendas, minutes, and memoranda.
    • IU Kelley School of Business students will be paired with entities to help with website creation or updates, online payment, embedding video content, or linking to social media platforms. Students will also work with entities to improve digital marketing, search engine optimization, fundraising, and/or branding. The sessions will also include training on maintaining the platforms and services.
    • In the final phase, students will provide advanced training to address interpreting usage reports and analytics, customizing and managing existing websites and other platform pages, and understanding Google analytic protocols.

For more information on the Regional Opportunity Initiatives including the digital inclusion initiative, or to see community data and plans, visit the Regional Opportunity Initiatives Digital Inclusion webpage.