Inside Your Town

Monroe County sees $1,000 gigabit project as way out of economic growth rut

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. - High-tech business executives and community leaders Tuesday joined forces to promote what they said was an urgent need to bring cheap, high-speed broadband Internet service to the Poconos and with it a chance to get out of a decade-long low-growth rut.

Kelly Lewis, a former Republican member of the state House of Representatives who heads his own technology company, outlined what is needed for Monroe County to obtain a $1,000 gigabit service per user, a project he compared in importance to Interstate 80 being routed through Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg, instead of Northampton County to the south where it was originally proposed. The savings would be substantial as the cost is currently $130,000 per year for users.

Looking out at the audience at East Stroudsburg University, Lewis said he doubted many of them would be in the Poconos today if the interstate was not rerouted.

"That didn’t come by magic," Lewis said, referring to the lobbying efforts to get the interstate to pass through the two towns.

By way of comparison, Lewis said the region will be just another backwater unless it is on board the high-speed, gigabit broadband highway.

"We did it for Interstate 80," he said. "We can do it for this project," adding "no county is better positioned to benefit."

Lewis said several steps must first be accomplished to make the project work: support from the county commissioners and 23 "participating buyers" of the service.

If affordable, high-speed broadband service comes to the Poconos, state Senator Mario Scavello said, "it will get companies to take a new look at Monroe County," a message echoed by Chuck Leonard, executive director, Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corporation.

Marcia Welsh, president of East Stroudsburg University, summed up the importance of the project, citing findings from the Monroe 2030 Action Team, which found the county continues to lag in job creation and wages, with workers here earning only 75 percent of the state average, the lowest among all neighboring counties.

On top of that, the study found, the county has the lowest rate of per capita income growth. And the number of businesses and start-ups has steadily declined and new job creation rates have been lower than statewide averages.

The next meeting is scheduled Jan. 13 at the East Stroudsburg University Innovation Center, Room 336, from 8 to 10 a.m.

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