WHEELING – U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito began a tour of the state’s small businesses on July 21 in an effort to highlight West Virginia small businesses as a means to grow the economy.
“The most important thing in West Virginia is getting people to work,” Capito, a Republican, told The West Virginia Record.
Capito said there are lots of opportunities for small business in the state. She said 95 percent of West Virginians are working for small businesses.
However, Capito said one challenge faced by small business owners in West Virginia is limited access to broadband. In addition, she said the businesses want trained workers, but training is not always readily available.
“Small businesses face obstacles in the form of financing and networking,” Capito said.
In March 2015, Capito successfully introduced legislation to reauthorize the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency made up of federal, state and local partners. The five-year, $100 million commitment to ARC includes $10 million per year to improve rural broadband services.
In May 2015, Capito announced the Capito Connect plan, which looks to address the lack of broadband access in West Virginia. Capito Connect creates a plan to use community feedback to build a state-specific plan for bringing broadband to West Virginia, to build collaborations between public and private entities to bring broadband to the state and to find “creative solutions” that will help bring affordable broadband access to schools, private businesses and private citizens in West Virginia.
Capito’s office said in 2015 that a study by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicated that 56 percent of West Virginia residents did not have acceptable access to broadband services, with that figure jumping to as high as 74 percent in rural areas of the state. According to a news release this month, those numbers had improved to 30 percent of West Virginians lacking access to broadband and as high as 48 percent in rural areas.
Capito said access to broadband is essential for developing businesses, improving education and sharing ideas. She said widespread broadband access will also boost West Virginia’s efforts to compete and succeed in a global economy.
Despite the challenges, including limited access to broadband, Capito said she is hearing from the small businesses she has visited on the tour that a lot of good things are happening on the West Virginia small business scene.
Capito said she ultimately wants to see products made in West Virginia being sold around the world.
“To keep young people here, we’ve got to really look at what the future of small business is,” Capito said.
On July 11, Capito joined with other senators in an effort urging the FCC to update the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Mobility Fund, which is aimed at providing broadband service to rural and underserved areas.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the senators called for the agency to prioritize new mobile broadband deployment in these areas as well as preserving and upgrading mobile broadband where it is currently available.
“The expansion of rural broadband should be a top priority of federal and state policymakers, as expanded deployment in rural areas will address important economic, educational, health care and public safety goals,” the letter said.
On July 26, Capito hosted FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai at a roundtable discussion aimed at drawing attention to the state’s broadband challenges.