Thank you Senator Voinovich and members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for this opportunity to speak in support of the reauthorization of the Appalachian Regional Commission. I am Gary Little, President of the Information Technology Alliance of Appalachian Ohio, Inc., a nonprofit organization fostering economic development for the information technology sector of the region. For clarity, this sector includes computer, internet, ecommerce, and related businesses and industries, and also all the various computer applications found in public sector organizations including education.
ITAAO, the State of Ohio, Governor’s Office of Appalachia, and the Appalachian Regional Commission have partnered on several occasions over the past five years to create an information technology community, an information technology visibility in Appalachian Ohio where it barely existed before. I often find myself on a soapbox promoting the region. Appalachian Ohio not only has a significant information technology sector, but we are leading the way in some areas.
Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, for instance, is one of the few universities in the country to offer two bachelors degrees in interactive digital technology development; one with a digital arts concentration and another with computer science/engineering concentration. Student enrollment is now over 100 bright, exceptional students from all around the country and locally. An article recently published by the Associated Press told of Michael Zyda’s astonishment with the program, the creativity, and enthusiasm for computer game and serious game development in Appalachian Ohio. Zyda was the lead researcher on the US Army’s recruitment and instructional game, America’s Army, and is Director of the GamePipe Laboratory at the University of Southern California. Zyda presented at the Shawnee Conference 3.0 on Interactive Digital Technology in 2005. This conference gained national attention in 2004, in part because of the support of the Appalachian Regional Commission. This is an example of great return on your investment. The small, but important, $5,000 grant generated nearly $20,000 in support on that specific event in 2004, but the real value is measured in the national publicity for Interactive Digital Technology (IDT) development, for Shawnee State University’s IDT degree programs, and also for related degree programs that are developing at Ohio University, Washington State Community College, Hocking College, and an existing computer animation degree program at Kent State University’s Tuscarawas campus.
That event in 2004, grew from the original concept of a Region of Excellence in Interactive Digital Technology (IDT) when ITAAO Board Chairman, Bill Sams; Adena Ventures president, Lynn Gellermann, Shawnee State University Fine and Digital Arts Chairman, Tom Stead, Ohio University Provost, Kathy Krendl, and Shawnee State University President, Rita Rice Morris germinated the idea in 2003. This has now grown to the development of a prototype “cyber park” in the GRID (Game Research and Immersive Design) Lab at Ohio University with a $247,500 ARC grant. From an original local match commitment of $62,000., Ohio University has now dedicated nearly $250,000 to this project, with additional funds from various local sources of nearly $20,000. The Lab has also developed research and project relationships with the Smithsonian Institute, with a Columbus, Ohio company, a Massachusetts company, and a New York City serious game development company to develop educational and instructional games, and recently developed a partnership with Intel. To expand upon this success Ohio University has now announced its intentions to create an IDT research and development institute seeking Ohio Third Frontier support. Hundreds of thousands, and very possibly millions of dollars of program, research, and education activities are about to explode onto the scene only two years after ARC made its initial $247,500 investment, and in the previous year a $5,000 investment. Without these funds you would not now see the interaction and possibly business development in Appalachian Ohio by some of the nation’s leading computer and IDT development companies.
Shawnee State University also has further expansion plans, and is now seeking private and public support to develop a whole new immersive arts and technology center that will include the most advanced motion capture facility for digital animation east of the Mississippi River.
The Appalachian Regional Commission has been instrumental in the blossoming of this concept, and will be a valuable partner in our continued efforts to create an innovation economy for this century.
A huge economy continues to grow nationwide (estimated at 100 billion this year in computer games, educational and health applications, and corporate/business applications) and worldwide in interactive digital technology and there is no reason why our students, our young entrepreneurs, and retrained workforce cannot and should not take advantage of it.
All we need to do is focus upon the polygon – in IDT terminology – and strive for it.