By Audrey Matott Columbia-Greene Media
CATSKILL — The Greene County Chamber of Commerce along with State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk hosted a small business roundtable discussion at the Bridge Street Theater in Catskill on Monday. The objective of the meeting was to discuss the challenges small businesses face and to hear ideas on answers to those challenges.
As an elected official, Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, encouraged the local business owners to share their input on areas where Tkaczyk would be able to focus on assisting them in improving the local business climate and to nurture economic development.
“I am someone who is interested in your input and what you have to say because it helps me decide where to put our energy,” said Tkaczyk.
Among the suggestions Tkaczyk made about what could be done to help improve the business climate in Greene County was rural broadband Internet access.
“It’s really hard for businesses to open, for businesses to expand if they’re not connected with high-speed internet access,” said Tkaczyk. “Schools have a problem because in rural areas we are doing more with distance learning. We have to have that broadband access and I think that is one of the things that would help drive the economic development aspects of upstate New York more.”
As many locals are aware and as Tkaczyk explained, it has been difficult to expand broadband access to the more rural areas of the county because of the regional topography and other boundaries.
Of course, local small business owners had suggestions as well as to what they feel would help improve the success of their businesses.
Kathleen McQuaid of KathodeRay Media of Greenville suggested grants for workforce development would be an incentive for employers to provide on-the-job training for new employees.
“It makes it easier for the employee to transition on and eases the burden for the small business employer,” said McQuaid.
Dan Viles, general manager of WYBN in Windham recommended that it would be helpful to business owners to ease the gas tax.
Viles said, “Businesses, when they are locating, big companies, on their check-off list is the cost of gasoline, cost of electricity, how much fiber, how fast and how easy? Is it setup already in the building or is it going to be a wait to get it in and if it isn’t in the building already, boom, they go to the next city or state.”
The issue of broad band Internet access to the more rural areas of the county was discussed at length between the small business owners, Tkaczyk and Greene County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Friedman. Friedman expressed that bringing fiber broadband Internet access to the county is a hot topic in discussions for further economic development.
“The county economic office has been working on this extensively,” Fried said.
He went on to say, “The county actually has a plan, the problem that we have is some of the most underserved areas are some of the most mountainous areas on the mountaintop.
“One of the things the county has investigated recently is creating a wireless high-speed broadband network throughout the county and constructing a series of towers throughout the county that would do several things. One would be to improve the emergency services communications throughout the county. We’ve got serious problems that came about as a result of both what happened in parts of the county from Sandy, certainly what happened from Irene.
“So they are addressing that by starting to construct this network of towers throughout the county for the communications. What they have begun to do is study whether or not it would be feasible and they brought in a wireless broadband company to study the fact that once this network of towers is constructed whether or not they could fill most of the gaps in the county via wireless broadband.”
In speaking of progressing economic growth through the success of small businesses, Friedman added, “Without high-speed broadband we are basically operating with one hand tied behind our back.”
Tkaczyk supported the idea of improving high-speed Internet access to rural areas. However she did say that she felt fiber would be the optimal choice as opposed to wireless. Nevertheless, she explained that regardless of what endeavors the county chooses to pursue, she would do what she could do on her end but that it would be a partnership between the county and state.
“I can’t tell what the best option is here in Greene County. They are working on the plan, gathering information, but we have to make sure that there are resources there and advocacy to make sure we get some of that support here in Greene County, Tkaczyk said.
“What I am suggesting is that there be some money available from the pool of funds that is coming to the state to help rural communities, like Greene County, get more fiber in the ground and more people connected.
“So I am trying to get money to do what you need to do here locally. I don’t know what you will ultimately apply for, because that would be up to the county that is working on the plan and knows what is needed and is applying.
“I want to get the money where we can access it and I want to make sure you get it, but I need you to apply. So it is going to be about a partnership.”