Coronavirus: Northumberland County economic recovery task force delivers initial recommendations

Click to play video 'Broadband expansion critical to recovery: Northumberland recovery task force' Broadband expansion critical to recovery: Northumberland recovery task force
As the province releases its second phase of reopening, the recovery phase will likely take a long time. In Northumberland County, the economic recovery task force has delivered its first set of recommendations. As Mark Giunta reports, the task force has identified high-speed internet access as a top priority.

The Northumberland economic recovery task force has finalized three recommendations for the recovery of local businesses post-coronavirus pandemic.

The task force, consisting of 63 working groups — including business owners/leaders, municipal partners and industry stakeholders — has been working diligently over the past several weeks on evaluating data from six targeted economic sectors, including the battered tourism and hospitality sector.

“Tourism and hospitality is being decimated — losses of more than 50 per cent of revenues,” said county warden and task force member Bob Sanderson. “There’s people on the verge of bankruptcy. There’s confusion of what can and can’t open and what’s available for funding.”

READ MORE: EORN to propose billion dollar rural broadband internet expansion

The top recommendation is addressing the lack of good, reliable broadband internet in several spots throughout the county.

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“Broadband internet really is a priority,” said Brendan Cunneen, task force co-chair.

“A prominent local manufacturer told me it needed high-speed internet to be competitive. I need to be able to sell stuff and access artificial intelligence or to introduce robotics to be competitive internationally. That’s the key cornerstone to bring technologies in, is high-speed internet and we simply don’t have it.”

Northumberland County is now leading an initiative to gauge the local high-speed internet capacity and connectivity levels and define a recommended approach and a road map for access in under-served and unserved areas.

Phase 1 of its Broadband Strategic Plan will be completed by August.

Following that, an application for funds to implement internet where there are gaps will be completed.

“We need to say, ‘This is what we have in the ground’,” added Cunneen. “Before we go to government for money to help the county access high-speed internet, we need to say, ‘This is what we have already and here are where the gaps are’.”

The task force is working closely with the provincial and federal governments in fast-tracking this process.

“Both our MP and MPP have asked us could we get consolidated and give them extra support to help fast track money for specific projects for broadband internet,” added Sanderson.

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The second recommendation for recovery is transitioning businesses to an online model, where there is adequate access to broadband internet.

Business & Entrepreneurship Northumberland (BECN) is working with local partners to launch an initiative to assist small businesses in working on their online presence.

The program will also assist small businesses in launching or improving their social media presence.

READ MORE: Internet usage has risen sharply amid coronavirus pandemic, providers say

And the final recommendation is restoring consumer confidence in the local economy.

The task force wants a universal approach to guidelines for reopening to ensure the safety of customers visiting an establishment which includes a countywide standard for the wearing of masks in all customer-facing environments.

The initial recommendations were delivered to the province by June 4.

A final report, which could include more recommendations, will be delivered to county and local municipal councils, as well as the federal and provincial governments, by the end of the month.