Another small but needed piece of the future economy fell into place the other day with the announcement that the state has found the money to expand broadband service in 59 counties in the northern part of the state.

Another small but needed piece of the future economy fell into place the other day with the announcement that the state has found the money to expand broadband service in 59 counties in the northern part of the state.

The high-speed network will connect not just homes and businesses but schools, hospitals and other institutions. In this instance, the state is setting aside $85 million in federal stimulus money. That’s the best use of stimulus money: something with an impact now and, just as important, a long-term payoff.

Many things that can be broadly called utilities – electric service, phone service, even railroads – are so foundational to the economy that we can easily take them for granted, but we need to remember they weren’t always there and didn’t just appear magically. Railroads wouldn’t have laid track across vast stretches of the country without lavish government incentives. A century ago, big cities had electricity, but farms did not. Power companies refused to run lines into rural areas with fewer customers and higher costs. That didn’t get fixed until the government stepped in to help organize electric co-ops starting in the 1930s, most of them still in business today. In many places, it’s the same story with phone service.

The instant and inexpensive transmission of data – whatever forms that might take – will be foundational to the future economy. Strengthening the rural economy is good for all of Missouri. Add this to this of things – schools, roads, amenities – that businesses looking to locate or expand will consider. To stay in that game, we have to invest.