As part of its ongoing effort to help member institutions magnify their economic impact, APLU announced finalists for its 2021 Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards. The awards honor institutions performing exemplary work to advance the economic wellbeing of their states, regions, and the nation through a variety of efforts. In this post, APLU spotlights Iowa State University and Washington State University finalists in the “Place” IEP Awards category, for their outstanding work resulting in social, cultural, or community development. One of the finalists will be named the Place category award winner during the 2021 APLU Virtual Annual Meeting.
Iowa State University
Iowa State University takes a comprehensive and innovative approach to commercializing research insights and supporting businesses across the state. The university hosts America’s Small Business Development Centers Iowa (SBDC), providing no-cost, customized business consulting across the state’s 99 counties to help entrepreneurs and small business owners address their greatest challenges. SBDC provides workshops teaching practical skills and techniques, market research, and access to subject-matter experts.
SBDC has served as an economic development hub for small businesses, and has established partnerships to reach all areas of the state. These connections allow for increased access to resources for all Iowa residents interested in starting or growing a business and include Spanish-speaking advisors to support the Hispanic community. Efforts include bringing digital resources and marketing to rural and underserved markets, as well as providing financial literacy training for minority business owners and supporting their efforts to raise capital. The university’s extension arm has created the Rural Housing Readiness Assessment (RHRA), which helps participating communities learn where to find information they need, how to interpret the data, and how to incorporate it into decisions for their community.
Washington State University
Washington State University has taken a multifaceted approach to fostering innovation across the state. When the pandemic exacerbated long-standing inequalities in the state, the university quickly sprung into action to address them. Drawing on relationships it developed over decades of work with communities statewide, Washington State’s Extension division reached out to a host of public and private partners to launch a drive-in Wi-Fi hotspots project.
One in ten rural residents in the state lack access to broadband and the pandemic threatened to cut off entire communities from digital access that enabled learning, remote work, and telemedicine. Partnering with the Washington State Broadband Office and Washington State Library, the university launched the drive-in Wi-Fi access effort in April 2020. The project grew to involve dozens of partners and over 600 drive-in Wi-Fi hotspots, enabling anyone to park and access high-quality, high-speed Internet. Although not a permanent solution to the broadband needs in Washington state, these hotspots provide free, publicly available emergency access in response to the pandemic.
WSU continues to expand its network of Drive-In Wi-Fi hotspots to help provide the high-speed Internet connections necessary for distance learning, remote work, telemedicine, and day-to-day essential services. Over 4,588 individuals accessed the WSU drive-in locations alone. WSU also harnessed its internal assets to make sure this information was widely disseminated through social media, email, and physical mail both in English and Spanish.