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May 10, 2023

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Digital Empowerment Coalition Launched in Merced To Close Digital Divide

Newly Launched Group Seeks to Direct Government Funding to Programs and Resources to Help Community and Businesses Thrive

Merced, Calif., May 10, 2023 – Today, the Merced Digital Empowerment Coalition (DEC) announced its formation with the goal of creating a stronger digital ecosystem that leverages technology to drive economic growth and the overall well-being of the community and its people. Merced County has a population of nearly 290,000, and a poverty rate of more than 20 percent. In this diverse community, nearly 15,000 people do not have access to reliable internet with internet speeds under 6 Mbps and cannot cannot take advantage of the opportunities the digital economy provides. 

The assembly of this coalition comes at a time when historic investments are being made to dissolve digital divides. The Merced DEC aims to advocate across sectors for the interests of the community in statewide and federal digital planning. This has the potential of aligning much needed funding and other resources to launch and sustain a vibrant digital economy. 

“Achieving digital empowerment means investing in systemic elements that lead to community transformation. It’s not just about ensuring internet access. It’s modernizing and transitioning our local businesses, governments, schools, and other anchor institutions into the digital economy. This is the best way to position and empower local economies to thrive long-term,” said Norma Cardona, VP of Merced, Bitwise Industries.

The DEC seeks to promote and secure equitable initiatives for people and small businesses in Merced to have meaningful access to participate in the digital economy. Providing access to technology and digital skills training in Merced county, can lead to community transformation. The goals of the group include:

  • Engaging, educating the community and policymakers on digital empowerment efforts, local and regional data, local barriers, and current approaches to digital empowerment
  • Creating a Digital Empowerment Plan for the region to align with federal and state efforts

“Enhancing internet access and its economic and educational opportunities, can bridge digital divides, delivering transformative outcomes,” said Josh Pedrozo, Merced County District 2 Supervisor “The continued economic development of our communities depends on the actions we take today to make sure that we lift one another up. We do this by pushing for better programs and initiatives that can drive real, equitable change in Merced County by providing people with the necessary tools to succeed.”

The DEC includes the following individuals and organizations:

  • Annissa Fragoso, Board President, Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Arlis Bortner, Vice-President of IT Services, Merced College
  • Claudia G. Corchado, Program Director, Cultiva la Salud
  • Cori Lucero, Regional Director, Central Valley Opportunity Fund
  • Jag Mokha, Treasurer, Merced Indian Chamber of Commerce
  • Josh Pedrozo, Merced County District 2 Board Supervisor
  • Mark Hendrickson, Merced County Economic Development Director
  • Monika Grasley, Executive Director,CDC Lifeline Community Center
  • Norma Cardona, Merced Vice President, Bitwise Industries
  • Priya Lakkerreddy, Regional Associate Director, Small Business Development Center 
  • Steve M. Tietjen, Ed.D. Merced County Superintendent of Schools, Merced County Office of Education
  • Sol Rivas, Executive Director, Valley Onward