Keeping small businesses connected

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. The lack of broadband connectivity in rural areas of Vermont was one of the major issues brought up by Democratic candidate for Governor, Christine Hallquist during the 2018 election.

"Connectivity is as important as water, electricity, sewers and roads. We connect people, we're going to have people flocking to Vermont and we're going to grow the types of businesses we want in Vermont," Hallquist said.

Kingdom Fiber signed a deal in September that would connect homes and businesses in the Northeast Kingdom. Vermont's Telecommunications Director said the state will spend almost half a million dollars to install equipment and hopes that the infrastructure will be completed before winter's end.

According to the website broadbandnow.com, Vermont is the 31st most connected state in the country. Connectivity is defined by having access to 25 megabits per second or faster.

Essex County has the lowest percentage of connectivity in the state with only 63.5 percent having access to 25 MBps.

The Head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, was in Vermont recently taking a tour of small businesses and speaking with small business owners.

McMahon said the president signed an executive order for rural development and she is working with the department of agriculture and the FCC.

"We don't think you have to live in a city in order for a business to be successful. Clearly, for a lot of small businesses, that start, they do need online capability. Their shipping is done through that. We want to make sure we can get it in there," McMahon said.

Another issue McMahon addressed was migrant and foreign workers. They are vital to Vermont's tourism and agriculture industries. Despite the current political climate, McMahon ensured workers will still be available.

For years, Birnn Chocolates has been working with the Vermont refugee resettlement program.

"And, a lot of them are still here today. And then we've employed their spouse or their siblings or their daughters," Birnn Chocolates Owner Julia Birnn Fields. "Someone who is working here, the best compliment they can give us is, 'Hey can you employ my wife or my child?' That also holds that person accountable and says, they're going to be a hard worker because I brought them in. I'm going to make sure of that."

English isn't a first language for eight of Birnn Chocolates' 22 employees. The company pays for those employees to learn English with lessons two hours a week.