Mathews is at a disadvantage in recruiting new businesses because it lacks reliable high-speed internet service in many parts of the county, several people said during an economic development forum Monday night.
Even if Mathews County should acquire better high-speed internet service throughout the county, David Hudgins, an executive of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said after the forum that does not mean the county will actually be that much ahead of the economic development curve. "Mathews is playing catch-up," he said.
Several business owners said they are at a major disadvantage by not having access to high-speed internet service. Lack of this service makes it harder for them to conduct business here.
Ibbie Hedrick, director of communications and business community liaison for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, said during the roundtable discussion that Mathews is not alone in seeking high-speed internet. Many other communities face similar setbacks to luring—or retaining—businesses, she said.
Hedrick said she serves as "the eyes and ears on economic development," being a liaison between communities seeking assistance and state agencies looking to make an impact on creating and retaining jobs—a top priority for both Gov. Bob McDonnell and Bolling.
A big factor in the high-speed internet issue is cost, said Dick Couch, vice chairman of Mathews County’s Industrial Development Authority. Some options may be too costly, especially for smaller businesses, he said, while others offer spotty service.
Mathews will need better high-speed internet service to help attract larger businesses, Couch said, with broadband expansion as one solution. Mathews offers "good possibilities" for future business, including a good space for phone ordering centers. "India moves to Mathews," he said of the potential for clean, environmentally friendly businesses such as telemarketing.
Different businesses need various types of help in working with county officials about possibly locating a facility here, Mathews County Administrator Steve Whiteway said. In some cases, county officials may even go out to look at properties with potential business clients, he said, or make referrals for them to work with local real estate professionals.
Jennifer Howland of the Virginia Workforce Center said that targeted job training makes a lot of sense. In this way, she said, workers can receive specialized skills, often through state-supported workforce development training programs offered at community colleges and other venues, which can be used for specific jobs that employers might need filled if they are to locate in a particular community.
Supervisor O.J. Cole, a local business owner who previously was president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce, said that Mathews must try to stay competitive in addressing incentives that might lure a business. "We must promote business," he said, and possibly seek more water-related businesses to tie in to the county’s many miles of shoreline.
School board vice chairman Jen Little said that state recommendations to not dredge Put-In Creek limit tourism opportunities in the village. If Put-In Creek could be dredged, she said, it would make Mathews more tourist-accessible, such as Urbanna and Deltaville and Ocean City, Md.