When you think of Walla Walla, WA, you most likely think of small towns, wine, and horizons that spill off into the grape-soaked distance. With a population of just 30,000, it's generally considered a sleepy place that serves up great food and lazy afternoons. It's a correct assessment.
But there's also a strong digital undercurrent. Walla Walla is situated next to a broadband fiber highway that extends from Portland to Spokane and further east – and the town has tasked itself with figuring out ways to use this network to help drive good business. If you think of the service economy as moving heavy things from point A to point B (like waiters or boats), the knowledge economy is about moving data: documents, files, videos, games, images, webinars, conferences, anything that can be digitized and sent off into cyberspace. By tapping into this possibility, and training people to become knowledge economy literate, you are creating a much more valuable and vibrant workforce. A workforce that can work virtually with anyone in the world.
CASE STUDY: According to Code.org, people who graduate from college with the ability to code computer games have an average starting salary of $90k. The average of all other majors? $30k. So it's pretty apparent that any educational curriculum pointed to providing well paying jobs and growth opportunity should be at least have some focus on computer literacy.
To that end, Dennis DeBroeck over at Walla Walla High School has formed a highly rigorous computer science program fifteen years in the making. Students in this class are creating visual effects (for videos and film), 3-D modeling, and computer games – and the course is so popular it is going to be offered to other schools as well as a career track. Graduates have been offered numerous college scholarships as well as jobs straight out of high-school working on major motion pictures and for Tier A gaming companies. Impressive.
Complementing that is CrewSpace at the Walla Walla Public Library – a cutting edge content production facility open to the public. Classes range from podcast creation to full-blown video production, the only limitation being what you bring the table. Again – all facilitating the basis for a creative economy that drives business as well as pleasure. Really neat stuff.
In the words of David Woolson, who leads the charge at the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce:
Digital W2 is a Chamber of Commerce initiative created to build the digital media industry and our broader creative economy. Living in a fabulous location and working on a world-class global level is not only possible, it's being done. Being in the middle of nowhere ain't what it used to be.
Action Item: Ask yourself, what's your digital initiative? If you don't have one, the train is leaving the station and you better hop on.
Bellingham? What sayest thou?