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E-boon in the boondocks

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Here's a commercial running on TV that always leaves me with a melancholy laugh.

The scene is a two-lane road in the middle of the desert. Two guys get out of a car. The bright young guy says to the older suit-and-tie type something like, "Here's your new business headquarters." He explains that the land is dirt cheap compared with trying to build near the city.

The suit-and-tie is shocked: "We're in the middle of nowhere!"

"Not in the middle of nowhere," the bright young guy explains. "How'd you get here? Road, phone, Internet." As recognition sets in, the two men giggle and dance around, dollar signs spinning before their eyes.

Of course, it's not that simple. No one is locating their high-tech start-up in the middle of nowhere, and those of us who live in these struggling rural areas shouldn't expect them to come knocking anytime soon. Our high-tech industry will be homegrown, but it will need a little help to get going.

It is true that in rural areas, the land is a lot cheaper than in the sprawling suburbs of Seattle or the quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of San Francisco. Access to outdoor recreation is closer, housing is cheaper, traffic jams are unheard of.

Yet in rural counties not fortunate enough to be situated on the highway or near Seattle, unemployment is in the double digits. Washington State has the largest income gap between rural and urban counties in the nation. I live in this other Washington - the one you don't see on TV, or read about in Wired magazine.

My county once had good income from farming, logging, and fishing. These occupations are now derided in this state as "old economy" or "extractive industries." Most folks blame towns like ours for "failing to adapt" to the New Economy. In short, the rural communities have only themselves to blame.


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