Bruce Clark’s top goal is making sure every household in Charlotte has access to broadband Internet. Then he wants to educate people on how to take advantage of it.
And ideally, the city would give people a pathway to go from learning how to buy things online all the way to learning the skills for an information technology job.
Clark, 35, is finishing up his first week on the job as Charlotte’s “digital inclusion project manager” – a role conceived as a way to bridge the digital divide in the city. He reports to the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, but is part of a program connected to many of the city’s civic organizations. Clark, a Democrat, is also a candidate for Charlotte City Council.
The Observer sat down with Clark over coffee at the 7th Street Market uptown on his third day in the job to ask about his vision for the role and why it’s important to bridge the digital divide in Charlotte. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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Q: What drew you to this job?
A: The thing that really drew me was a sense of action. This wasn’t just a, “Go out and study this problem.” It was a, “How the heck are we going to actually solve this problem.” I’m a person that has a bias toward action. The opportunity to really make a difference through action was what drew me.
Q: Why is universal broadband access important?
A: At the core of it, it’s the idea of not leaving people in our community behind. This digital divide really has the chance to drive a wedge. We see the wedge now.
As enlightened, grown adults, we see how that affects our economy. All the way at the other end of the food chain, we have these enterprise companies here in Charlotte who are clamoring for talent but they can’t get talent because we’re not teaching the kids what they need.
Q: How do you get started?
A: I think our initial body of work is going to be creating a database of resources. We’re building a community-wide survey right now to assess what resources are available currently in the community. We’ll have this baseline of, here’s all the resources we can gather from every corner of Charlotte, all the way from federal to local resources and neighborhood resources.
Q: What do you mean by resources?
A: Imagine a Level 1 to 5. Level 1 is someone who’s never been on the Internet, and Level 5 is, “I’m leaving my job and I’m going to go learn how to code and start my own business.” This technocrat kind of person.
A resource is anything that the person at Level 1 or Level 5 or anybody in between is going to look to help to move them along the sale. It could be coding schools on the top end. On the bottom end, it could be, How do I get a device? How do I get it connected to the Internet, and how do I check my kid’s homework, or how do I pay my water bill, or how do I buy my diapers so I can get them cheaper online?
Q: Digital inclusion is tied up with poverty and economic mobility. Can you work on digital inclusion without having to solve the issue of poverty?
A: I think that collectively we’re all talking about factors that contribute to poverty. One would presume that if we move the needle on a number of these issues that in fact we will be moving the needle on poverty.
I like to win and I like to win for Charlotte. My sense is that even though two years seems like a short period of time, it can also seem like a long period of time. I think there is real opportunity to move the needle on digital inclusion, which by default would move the needle on poverty.
That would be my goal. Swing for the fences.
I think there is real opportunity to move the needle on digital inclusion, which by default would move the needle on poverty.
Bruce Clark, digital inclusion manager