LEWISBURG — Access to broadband internet remains an issue for smaller businesses in the Valley, but larger businesses are less concerned, according to a survey released by the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.
At Friday’s governmental affairs committee meeting, President/CEO Bob Garrett revealed that 10 percent of large businesses surveyed by the Chamber expressed that internet access is no longer an issue while 50 percent of small businesses and 75 percent of micro-businesses are still concerned. Last year, the Chamber placed access to quality internet and broadband service atop its priority list in its 2017-18 strategic plan.
“We’ve moved the ball the right way, but we’re not in the end zone,” Garrett said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, particularly for our smallest businesses. The chamber is in a unique position to partner with local government to make this happen.”
The survey showed the top two training needs for 272 businesses who responded to the survey are digital technology and social media. However, in a separate part of the survey, the rising costs of health care insurance tops the list of important issues followed by workforce training, government policies/polarization and taxes.
“Those who can pay for it are paying for it,” Garrett said. “It’s the folks who can’t pay the $10,000 a month, who can’t afford to run the lines to their houses. It’s very classic. You have to look at the experience we had when we were running sewer lines, and water lines and electric lines, and building roads. It got taken to the people who could pay for them first.”
The committee meeting featured a brief panel discussion with John Uehling, president and CEO of Contrast Communications; Sam Haulman, district manager of Service Electric Cablevision; and Shawn McLaughlin, director of Union County Planning and Economic Development.
“Once needs are identified, how do we address it? Who is going to pay for it?” Haulman said.
They pointed to Gilson Boards outside New Berlin as a success story. The owners were fearful that the snowboard manufacturing business would have to relocate due to a lack of high-quality internet, but they were wired last year with broadband internet by Service Electric at their headquarters along the New Berlin Highway near Winfield. That, combined with community support, influenced the owners’ decision to commit to the region.
McLaughlin noted that expectations need to be “grounded in reality” because quality service at this time can’t necessarily reach into highly rural areas.