By Tim Leeds
Another step is being taken to push Havre into the Internet age.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said today that Bear Paw has received a $4,340 grant to begin work on improving the use of technology in Havre, with a desired result of affordable high-speed Internet access.
"We'd like to be able to prove to private sector entities that Havre would be a good location to invest in in terms of high-speed access," Tuss said, "and have it distributed through the community, and affordable."
Most of Havre cannot access high-speed connections. Some businesses and entities like Montana State University-Northern have high-speed connections, and Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association provides some access outside of Havre.
The next step for Bear Paw will be to use the grant to start a survey of Havre businesses to see what their technology uses and needs are. Tuss said Bear Paw will conduct the survey by mail, and will be contacting as many businesses in Havre as it can, beginning in about six or eight weeks. The survey will include current technology use, planned future use and what the businesses would like to have available.
"It's both present-based as well as future-based how business owners could use technology to improve their businesses, improve their bottom line," he said.
Bear Paw is teaming up with MSU-Northern to put on a technology showcase in March. Bear Paw will use the results of the survey to show what businesses are doing with technology, what they want to do and what they could do.
"It's going to be a pretty major event, I think," he said. "(It will show) high-speed Internet access and all the bells and whistles that are out there."
The next step will be to sell Havre and its technology needs to high-speed Internet access providers, showing there is a market as an incentive to the providers.
"We will do the showcase, which will further explain what people can do with technology, and then take both (the survey and showcase) to the next level and have a product we can shop around and show private sector high-speed access providers," Tuss said.
Tuss said the technology inventory and assessment of infrastructure needs are focused on business, but if the effort ends up with affordable high-speed access, it could help everyone in Havre.
"I think we'll find the end result works for both businesses and individuals," he said.
The grant, one of five awarded in a field of 11 applicants, was announced at a meeting in Missoula on Oct. 25. The grant, Building a Better Economy Award Program, is a joint venture.
"The money comes from Qwest, but the actual grant competition is sponsored through MEDA, the Montana Economic Developers Association," Tuss said.
He said the way recipients for the grants were chosen was by how the money would be used to work on economic development projects that are tied to technology and communications.
Bear Paw will be writing the surveys to send out to businesses, using expertise in the community to ask appropriate questions about technology. Tuss said he is very impressed with the level of tech-savvy people who can help write the appropriate questions, and "the truth of the matter is, Bear Paw has designed numerous surveys for public input. We do it all the time."