Jessica Betts liked what she heard Thursday afternoon.
She sat in an ornate room of dark wood and gilded trim in the Amsterdam Castle with a few dozen area movers and shakers listening to State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk’s economic development plan.
“We’re in the process of starting a hops farm in Sprakers,” Betts said. “The rhizomes are being shipped.”
She listened eagerly to the recently elected Democrat explain a package of three newly proposed bills. Later, Betts said all the bills if approved would help her new hops business.
Tkaczyk pointed to a board graphing the number of households in various counties with access to fiber-optic Internet. Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties were all in the 90 percent range. In Schenectady roughly 50 percent of households could get fiber-optic service if they wanted. In Montgomery county, the graph read 0 percent.
“In rural areas,” she said, “there aren’t enough customers for Internet providers to lay cable.”
To improve coverage she proposed 10 percent tax breaks be given to Internet providers willing to bring regular broadband to underserved areas like Montgomery County, and 20 percent tax breaks for bringing the much more expensive fiber-optic cable.
“Infrastructure has always been critical both for current business to grow and for enticing new business to the area,” said Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose. “Infrastructure isn’t just water, electricity and roads anymore. It’s also broadband.”
Tkaczyk pointed out rural schools in financial distress could also maintain programs through improved Internet access.
“Rural schools are losing kids,” she said. “With fewer students, schools are cutting programs, but if you have good Internet, a kid can learn French from the teacher a few schools over.”
Though farming isn’t usually considered an especially high-tech field, Betts said Tkaczyk’s broadband bill would work wonders in the hops industry.
“My husband Michael was battling Frontiernet the other day,” she said. “They have a monopoly in our area. It’s so slow.”
Slow dial-up is a real problem for Betts since they did all their pre-planting research online, incorporated their business online and will eventually check the markets to get the best price for hops online.
Tkaczyk also discussed two other proposed agriculture bills. One is a low-interest loan program designed to get small farmers on their feet. As it’s currently written, farms generating less than $100,000 of gross product per year would be eligible for $25,000 loans for equipment upgrades.
Soil and Water Conservation Director Corey Nellis said many new farmers in the county could use such help.
“Agriculture is the foundation of Montgomery County,” he said. “Right now we’re seeing new farmers getting into fresh markets and direct marketing. We need to prop these guys up.”
Along with low-interest loans, Tkaczyk proposed a disaster recovery grant program designed to assist farmers with crop loss and flood damage. Nellis recalled debris-covered fields left by receding Irene flood waters and a drought last year responsible for terrible crop loss.
Farmers in such situations would be eligible for a $10,000 grant if the bill is approved.
The senator grew up on a dairy farm and still lives on a sheep farm in Duanesburg. She said her hands-on farm experience inspired the bills.
“As a farmer myself I know how hard it is to make a living,” she said.
James Plastiras, a spokesman for the senator, said the three bills discussed Thursday were meant to fix “glaring problems” and similar bills will be proposed in the future. He also said the bills are at the very early stages of inception and still have to be discussed on the Senate floor and brought to a vote.