Campbellsville, Ky., was once a thriving little community. Located in the geographic center of the state, the town's 11,000 residents had rarely had seen unemployment exceed five percent in 50 years.

But when the town's largest employer, Fruit of the Loom, suddenly closed its manufacturing facilities in 1998, Campbellsville found itself face to face with an economic disaster.

Almost overnight, unemployment jumped nearly 30 percent.

"It was devastating," said Kevin Sheilley, executive director of Team Taylor County, an organization formed to encourage economic development in the Campbellsville area. "Fruit of the Loom had employed generations of area residents, and then suddenly it was gone."

Campbellsville government leaders soon realized that stabilizing the community's economic health - and that of surrounding Taylor County - required more than generating new jobs. With the rest of the country firmly entrenched in the Information Age, Campbellsville's survival depended on its ability to transform itself from an old-fashioned manufacturing center to a 21st-century city.

Road to Recovery

Campbellsville's leaders launched their new strategy immediately.

Their first move was to form Team Taylor County. The goal of the organization is to rally local leaders to build a strong, united approach to creating a healthy economy. Soon after the team's formation, the local college, Campbellsville University, joined in recovery efforts by establishing a Technology Training Center.

Although both steps helped, a key piece was still missing: infrastructure. Without broadband Internet access, there was little hope of attracting new businesses to the area. In some cases, the lack of high-speed communications infrastructure was even putting the fate of existing Campbellsville businesses in jeopardy.

"Campbellsville Industries is one of the oldest and largest steeple makers in the country - very traditional, old-line manufacturing," said Sheilley. "But as they work with architects and builders around the country, they need to be able to send blueprints and CAD drawings over the Internet, and they just couldn't do that using dial-up Internet access. It put them at a competitive disadvantage."

But luring a broadband Internet service provider to Campbellsville proved to be difficult. "The phone company was very upfront - they weren't interested, they were not going to make that investment in Campbellsville," said Sheilley. "We went to the cable company, but their infrastructure wasn't ready yet. We realized the only way you could have broadband in Campbellsville was if you paid for a T1 line. That cost $1,000 to $1,200 a month, which knocked out most businesses. We recognized at that point we'd need to find an answer to this problem on our own."

That's where the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) came in. Joe Mefford, CIO of KLC, is a 35-year veteran of both AT&T and BellSouth. As such, he witnessed firsthand how critical high-speed Internet access could be to rural communities. Fortunately for Campbellsville, Mefford and the KLC already had planned a mission to bring high-speed Internet access to all of Kentucky's rural communities.

"It became apparent to me quickly that many of the rural areas were falling behind simply because they did not have adequate Internet service," said Mefford.

Mefford and the KLC spent the next six months looking for solutions. They eventually concluded that wireless broadband was the best answer to Kentucky's problems. "I looked at six different wireless technologies and finally found one that seemed to be a perfect fit for our rural towns because it had a five-mile range," said Mefford. "In most cases a five-mile radius will incorporate these small cities with just one antenna. It makes it simple to deploy because you find the center of town and find a water tower or something similar, and you're in business."

After researching wireless options, Mefford and the KLC settled on Toronto-based Waverider's concept. Waverider's system uses 900 MHz radio waves broadcast

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer