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Carroll Times Herald: Boost rural Iowa with modern tech jobs, Scholten, Khanna say

Between 2010 and 2017, 71 of Iowa’s counties lost population — most of them rural.

J.D. Scholten and U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna of California believe the key to stop population loss and make large gains economically in rural Iowa is incumbent upon building a technological infrastructure.

“We’ve got to bring technology to rural America and have the same opportunities where people can stay in the communities they love, keep the type of life that they want, stay with their families, but have opportunities for the jobs of the future,” Khanna said at a forum with Scholten in Mason City last Saturday moderated by Carroll Times Herald co-owner Douglas Burns.

Khanna, who represents the richest district in the country, which includes Silicon Valley, has become intimately familiar with rural Iowa and its problems. Khanna has teamed with leaders from Iowa and investors from Silicon Valley to bring a training program and software development firm to Jefferson.

Scholarships were created for students to enroll in a 10-month course in basic digital marking and software design in Jefferson. Those trainees will be qualified for jobs at the new firm, which will pay about $65,000 per year.

Khanna and Scholten, a Democrat running for Congress in Iowa’s 4th District, which includes Carroll and the surrounding counties and currently is represented by U.S. Congressman Steve King, said they would like to see more programs like the one developed in Jefferson across the district and state. Both agreed that more money is needed for research and development.

“I think one of the big things is the lack of research and development,” Scholten said. “We’re seeing that in agriculture as much as we’re seeing it in technology. So much of D.C. and politics these days are putting Band-Aids on things and catching up. This is chance for us to have a vision for the future.”

Khanna said he would like to develop what he calls “tech institutes” at community colleges and land grant universities. He compared the idea to President Abraham Lincoln’s intention when he set up land grant universities in the first place.

“What I’ve said is what we need is the 21st century of universities,” Khanna said. “We need to take these land grant institutions and community colleges and give them grants to set up tech institutes that prepare people with a certificate or credential in the technology skills they need.”

Scholten pointed out that the United States spent 3 percent of its GDP on research and development after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1959. Today, 0.7 percent of the budget is set aside for the same purpose.

“We’re going to get blown out of the water by the nations that invest in themselves, especially China,” he said.

Scholten said 1,400 students graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in the technology fields in 2017, but only 258 currently are working in Iowa. He believes the next wave in tech will be in the agriculture business and Iowa should and can be a leader in the field, but infrastructure like high-speed Internet needs to be in place to make it happen.

“The No. 1 thing we end up producing and exporting is our children, and it’s time for that to change,” Scholten said.

Khanna and Scholten agree net neutrality is essential for rural Americans. Khanna said America could hook up high-speed Internet to every community in the nation for the same $40 billion it spends each year in Afghanistan. Scholten said getting rid of net neutrality would lead to more income inequality and is the wrong direction for America.

“It’s very important — and it’s particularly important for rural communities — to have net neutrality, “Khanna said. “If you don’t have net neutrality, and you allow the AT&Ts and Verizons to dominate the Internet, then you’re not going to have small providers emerge; you’re not going to have small businesses emerge.”

Current 4th District Rep. Steve King has a record of supporting Internet service providers in their quest to discontinue net neutrality. Since taking office, the 9th-term congressman has taken more than $210,000 from Internet service providers. In 2014, he was a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Act, which intended to stop the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing net neutrality regulations.

Khanna said none of these ideas will matter unless the Democrats can defeat President Trump next fall. He said the only way that can happen is with an optimistic message and outlook.

“To say, ‘No, the future is going to be better,’ ” Khanna said. “The future is going to be more choice, more freedom, more opportunity for your families and your communities. The reality is that we have not made that case, not just rhetorically, but substantively. Too many communities have been excluded from that future, and I think that is the fundamental challenge for our country.”

by Matthew Rezab, Staff Writer