Today we introduce a new phrase to your vocabulary: Zoom town.
From the beginning of the internet, rural communities were tantalized by its prospects. Some predicted “the death of distance” – that it no longer mattered where people were as long as they could connect via technology.
Socially, that’s certainly been the case: We can now share cat pictures – or argue politics – with people anywhere there’s a wifi connection. Economically, though, the internet hasn’t lived up to its promises. Instead of prompting a rural renaissance, technology has only accelerated what economists call “the great divergence” between urban and rural areas. It turns out that tech companies don’t like distance, after all, they prefer density – to produce lots of off-line collaboration between people from different fields. In 2019, the Valleys Innovation Council – a tech-focused business group that covers the Roanoke and New River valleys – hosted a guest speaker who advised on how this region could create that kind of density. Short version: An “innovation district” that connects downtown Roanoke with the Virginia Tech Carilion Academic Health Center, aka, the medical school and research institute. Only by jamming a lot of creative, highly-skilled people into a small space can you get what that speaker – Baltimore-based consultant Thomas Osha — called the “creative collisions” that send the “innovation economy” into overdrive. “That’s why innovation districts have become a global phenomenon,” Osha said. “Density is destiny.”