California’s Central Valley is vast, encompassing all or part of 18 counties, and is a dominant agricultural region in our state. Despite its prominent role in contributing to our state’s agricultural production, this region is often overlooked when it comes to economic development.
We have a chance to change this — if the state can look to the future and seize the opportunity right in front of us. Discussions on the merger of T-Mobile with Sprint have led to T-Mobile making a number of significant commitments that would have a positive and lasting impact on the Central Valley and the state of California as a whole.
We have reason to be hopeful here in the Valley. The merger has secured the approval of almost all of the regulatory bodies necessary to finalize the deal. The Department of Justice is the latest to convey its approval, joining the Federal Communications Commission and state utility regulators from 18 of the 19 states required.
Of particular importance to the Central Valley is the commitment by T-Mobile to build a new Customer Experience Center in Kingsburg. The center would create approximately 1,000 new jobs in a region that is still trying to recover from the Great Recession. These are good, well-paying jobs with benefits, and applicants need only a high school diploma or GED to qualify. Given the rate of unemployment and underemployment for this particular subset of job seekers, this is very good news. High school graduates simply do not have many options in the Central Valley. Kingsburg and the surrounding communities will also benefit from the increased economic activity these new jobs will bring to the area.
The merger also addresses an issue that has existed for years: the lack of infrastructure to support high-speed broadband access to rural communities. For example, updating and expanding mobile infrastructure in rural communities is critical for the future of our agriculture industry. Farming is being revolutionized by innovations in technology. Remote monitoring of crops and livestock, better decision-making based on data, and the ability to target irrigation and fertilization of crops are a few examples of how tech is making agriculture more efficient and sustainable. “Smart ag” devices use mobile broadband, but these tools are only as good as the networks available to them. 5G will enable farmers and ranchers to use this technology, keeping California’s ag industry strong, efficient and environmentally sustainable.
When T-Mobile announced it would make a significant investment in the Central Valley as part of its merger with Sprint, we were hopeful and optimistic their efforts would address the lack of broadband infrastructure in this region. Expanding 5G will connect the Central Valley with the rest of California, allowing this region to compete for jobs. In fact, with our lower cost of living, the Central Valley is an attractive place for tech firms to expand or locate their businesses, but we need the digital infrastructure first.
We are encouraged by the governor’s interest in developing economic opportunities in the Central Valley. The Customer Experience Center is a great example of these opportunities turning into reality.
We’d like our state officials to be Valley’s corner and welcome a visit from Attorney General Xavier Becerra to tour the area and see what an impact a project like T-Mobile’s Customer Experience Center would have on our residents. Diversifying our local economy is important to the future of the Central Valley. So is expanding high-speed broadband access, which in an increasingly digital economy takes on even greater importance. Without it, the digital divide will expand for our people.
With so much happening in our region, it seems as though the Central Valley is at a turning point. If we are able to move forward with the opportunities for growth and development and the T-Mobile merger is part of the turning point, we foresee a much brighter future for our communities, our young people and our businesses.
Michelle Roman is mayor of Kingsburg; Victor Lopez is mayor of Orange Cove and chairs the Central Valley Latino Mayors and Elected Officials Coalition.