“Our cellular service is more spotty, our wireless is more temperamental, and we definitely only have one choice,” Ms. Green, 35, said. “It’s a bit of a generational thing. We rely on internet access.”

Ms. Green moved home for family reasons. But finding others willing to do the same has been difficult. Broadband isn’t the only factor — shortages of housing and child care also rank high — but it is a major one. Recruiting is Weiler’s “No. 1 challenge,” Ms. Green said, despite wages that start around $20 an hour, before overtime.

The experience of the past year has accentuated the problem. When the pandemic hit last year, Weiler sent home any workers who didn’t have to be on the factory floor. But they quickly encountered a problem.

“I was shocked to know how many of our employees could not work from home because they did not have reliable internet access,” Ms. Green said. “We’re talking ‘seven minutes to download an email’ type internet access.”

Other local companies had a similar experience. In June, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, a regional business group, commissioned a study on how to improve the area’s digital infrastructure. With the state and federal governments considering significant investments, the group hopes its study will give it priority for funding, said Brian Crowe, the group’s head of economic development.

For Marion County and other rural areas, the widespread experiment with working from home during the pandemic could present an economic opportunity if the infrastructure is there to allow it. Many companies have said they will allow employees to continue to work remotely all or part of the time, which could free workers to ditch city life and move to the country — or take jobs at companies like Weiler while their spouses work from home.

“All of a sudden, it’s not going to be the case that in order to work for leading companies, you have to move to the cities where those companies are located,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist for Upwork, a platform for freelancers. “It’s going to spread opportunity around.”

But broadband experts say there is no way that rural areas will get access to high-speed, reliable internet service without government help. If a place doesn’t have internet access in 2021, there is a reason: generally too few potential customers, too dispersed to serve efficiently.

“The private sector’s just not set up to solve this,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the issue. He likened the challenge to rural electrification almost a century ago, when the federal government had to step in to ensure that even remote areas had access to electrical power.

“This is exactly what we saw play out in terms of economic history in the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s,” he said. “It really is about towns being left behind.”

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