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Background Image People stand behind an old-fashioned hotel bar.

Fully Wired

More than half of all Americans living in rural areas report difficulties in accessing high-speed internet. A reliable internet connection is crucial in the 21st-century economy, and many rural communities struggle to access the opportunities it offers. Unlike many small towns, however, Ellinwood boasts internet as fast as that of any city in the United States. The key to the town’s success? A local internet provider.

Rural internet is a challenge because it requires more equipment per customer than in urban areas where people live closer together. To many larger internet providers, it’s not worth the cost and effort to put the infrastructure in place to serve farther-flung areas. However, for H&B Communications, a family-owned telecommunications company in Ellinwood, it was an investment in the community. Providing a necessary service to the town was more than a practical business decision for H&B; it provided economic opportunities to residents of the town and surrounding areas. Sheri Holmes, director of the Ellinwood School/Community Library and Crossroads project director explains the importance of having access to high speed internet stating that many of the library’s patrons rely on its technology to provide universal access to information. “We are fortunate to have the services that H&B Communications provides our community,” says Holmes.

Five years ago, Jennifer and Scott Andersen never would have imagined that they’d own a candle company. Kansas Earth and Sky Candle Co. began in their family farmhouse in 2016 with the goal of making fragrant gifts for family and friends. Demand for their products grew quickly, however, and they took their business online. Today, they receive orders from across the United States and operate both a storefront and an online shop, selling candles with scents such as “Dirt Therapy” and “Prairie Wildflower” that convey a uniquely Kansas identity. Without a fast, reliable internet connection, Jennifer and Scott would have been unable to reach an audience wide enough to support their business.

The Historic Wolf Hotel, too, has taken advantage of the internet to draw in hundreds of guests, tour groups, and events each year. Originally built in 1894, the hotel sits on top of a system of underground tunnels that used to house a number of saloons selling “giggle water” during the Prohibition Era. Over the years, the hotel has undergone a number of transformations, but in 2013 it was restored to its original purpose as a hotel, and its new owner has used the internet to draw in guests from across the country to stay and tour the underground tunnels. The hotel has even attracted the attention of a number of ghost hunters, who have descended upon the place with carloads of beeping, crackling equipment, though the consensus is still out on whether the hotel is haunted. “Technology allows Ellinwood to compete in the global economy,” shares Chris McCord, owner of Wolf Hotel. “It brings people to our community through tourism and marketing and allows us to showcase the charm of our small town." 

"Technology allows Ellinwood to compete in the global economy."

The Wolf Hotel and Kansas Earth and Sky Candle Co. have used their access to reliable high-speed internet to create economic opportunities for themselves and their community. More than that, they’ve used the internet to bring a piece of their town to the world—and to bring the world to their town.

To learn more, visit the Ellinwood: Continuous Innovation exhibition on display at the Ellinwood School/Community Library at 210 N. Schiller Avenue in Ellinwood, from October 16 to December 2, 2020. http://hslibrary.usd355.org


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