Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and Democratic U.S. Vice President Joe Biden stood together on at least one issue Thursday — an effort to improve communication and attract industry in North Georgia.
Perdue joined the vice president on the stage at a Dawsonville manufacturing company as Biden announced the award of more than $183 million in stimulus funds for broadband development projects in 17 states.
One of those grants will help fund the construction of hundreds of miles of fiber optic lines that will bring high-speed Internet access to rural North Georgia counties.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will fund $33.5 million of a regional project, the North Georgia Network, that will create a 260-mile regional fiber optic ring through eight North Georgia counties: Lumpkin, Dawson, Union, White, Habersham, Rabun, Towns and Forsyth.
The vice president and other local officials have lauded the project, saying it will make North Georgia more attractive to high-tech industries.
"This is a new time — a new age," Biden said. "This is a flat world. We want to make sure that you’re able to compete in rural Georgia, have the same opportunities for a quality life, the same opportunities for jobs, innovation and movement as they have anywhere in the country."
As he tried to describe how the funds for broadband expansion will "revolutionize the way rural Georgia works, learns and grows," Biden compared the network expansion to Georgia’s roads.
"Like Georgia’s State Route 9: traffic moves pretty slowly at times, cars get jammed up, you can’t get where you’re going all that quickly, especially if you’ve got to go a long distance, assuming that’s the only road to Atlanta or wherever else you wanted to go. That’s what we’ve got now," Biden said. "...We’ve got essentially, a Georgia Route 9. We don’t have Georgia I-85 — an interstate that can put a whole lot more vehicles, a whole lot more folks, a whole lot more tonnage on the road, and even when it’s congested, get people further faster to their destination with more product in the process. That’s kind of like high-speed Internet; it is a four-lane interstate versus a crown-top Route 9."
The funding Biden announced Thursday is part of about $2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants and loans that will be made on a rolling basis over the next 75 days to bring broadband to communities across the country that currently have little access to the technology.
"The future of Georgia needed infrastructure of the 21st century and this would be, literally, the dial tone of the future as we go forward," Perdue said. "Just as we’ve looked to roads and the phone lines to open up markets in our history, broadband access really is a tool ... to compete with today’s global, information-based economy."
Specifically, Biden and Perdue spoke of the company at which the announcement was made Thursday, Impulse Manufacturing. Impulse, located off G.W. Taffer Road in Dawsonville, is a high-tech metal fabricator that uses lasers and robots for cutting and welding metal.
The company manufactures parts for Blue Bird buses, Yamaha golf carts and the Carrier Corp., said company President Ron Baysden.
Because of the slow Internet speed in Dawsonville, Baysden said the company regularly has issues with sending part specifications to its customers.
"It is so much data that they have to work through to solve problems in that a lot of times we have to load it up and mail them the media so they can do the analysis where normally they should just be able to go right in and do it," Baysden said. "A lot of our customers want the ability to log in to see what’s going on live where it is."
But in his speech at Baysden’s plant Thursday, Biden said that the federal government’s investment in broadband in North Georgia would make slow download times a non-issue for Impulse. The vice president even hedged his bets that Baysden’s company will have expanded in five years.
"Look, without broadband, companies like Impulse, even though they are cutting-edge companies putting out good product, they’re not going to be able to compete globally," Biden said.
Other industries, too, will be able to locate in North Georgia and expand their services because of the improved technology created by the stimulus funds, Biden said. The vice president said the investment in technological infrastructure will be the groundwork for a sustainable economy.
"We don’t want an economy built on another bubble," Biden said. "... We want to do what our grandparents did: build a firm foundation, a firm, new foundation built on reality that allows us to compete globally."
Along with high-tech industries, Biden said the increased bandwidth would also give Georgia’s farmers an advantage by creating access to real-time market information.
"You want to know how much your crop is worth at that second and not have to go through a middle man, you want to press a button and sell the crop then. It changes the life," Biden said.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said he, too, believed the investment in fiber optics could improve the state’s largest sector: agriculture.
"Technology’s where you get things done," Irvin said. "And if you’re not out there using the technology to its fullest, then you’re behind the times."
Even others who have not been supporters of Biden and President Barack Obama’s stimulus package praised the investment in the North Georgia Network on Thursday. Along with the federal boost, the North Georgia Network will be financially supported by North Georgia College and State University, Habersham Electric Membership Corp. and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC.
Planners say the project will serve more than 9,000 businesses, 146 county government facilities, 82 public schools, seven higher-learning institutions and four hospitals.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Gainesville Republican who represents most of the counties included in the project, voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But Deal, who is currently a candidate for Georgia governor in 2010, issued a statement Thursday that he supported the way stimulus funds were being spent in Georgia.
"... I have continued to support broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas," the congressman’s statement read. "While I did not support the stimulus package, I support the general purpose of this project. I am glad to see that money from the stimulus is finally going to good use, and I look forward to learning more about the specifics of this project."
State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who is seeking the congressional seat Deal will vacate in 2010, praised the North Georgia Network for "providing the infrastructure many businesses need to operate" and creating the possibility for new jobs in the district.
"Government has no place in increasing bureaucracy in order to create jobs," Hawkins said in a statement his campaign released Thursday. "Instead, government should be supporting projects like the North Georgia Network that provide the tools businesses need to keep employees employed and to expand their reach. Business should lead the private sector, not government."