Dave Nethaway works from home with his sidekick, Daniel the dog.
With sufficient technology improvements, the Internet could provide jobs for locals and allow new people to come to the Adirondack Park to live and work at home.
Job opportunities in the North Country is no longer reliant on the industries of mining, agriculture and timber. In rural communities, the future for filling homes and schools with year-round residents and job creation for current residents could come from employment at companies elsewhere through telecommuting.
A roundtable discussion was held at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake on Oct. 24 to address community concerns and educate participants about how to bring successful broadband connections to rural communities. The forum was led by the New York State Broadband Program Office, USDA, and Adirondack Action for a Smart Rural Communities (SRC).
“One of the major talking points was a lot of people don’t have access to broadband,” said Wild Center Director of Philanthropy Hillarie Logan-Dechene. “At the conference, the attending agencies listened to audience questions and gave people the right contacts for them to call if they are serious about improving their broadband connections.”
Topics that were discussed included: USDA Rural Development and New York State Broadband Programs, eligibility requirements, program structures and purposes, funding pathways and statewide needs as well as general discussion on each of the program’s administration.
About 70 community members attended the discussion. Speakers included Bob Puckett of the New York Telecommunications Assoc., Dave Wolf of Development Authority of the North Country, Rob Ottara and Renee Hotte of the USDA.
“There are resources out there for people to bring broadband to their community. The number one person to call would be Angel Liotta, the Broadband outreach director with Empire State Development,” Logan-Dechene said.
If the expansion of broadband is successful, programs such as Adirondack Teleworks — based in the town of Indian Lake — could help open up job oppoprtunities for Adirondackers and lure more telecommuters to the region. Adirondack Teleworks was built to help people find telecommuting jobs anywhere in the Adirondack Park through the Internet.
Bill Murphy, public relations manager and member of the Adirondack Teleworks, said the not-for-profit group has been working for three years to get funding for broadband projects in the region.
“We’re trying to promote current teleworks. We now have the ability to live and work here,” Murphy said. “Also we need to bring in training for workforce investment. We’re hoping to get money to start training people in digital literacy.”
Murphy said if they can get the funding, the goal is to begin digital literacy training in local libraries with 120-hour courses. At the end of the course, participants will receive a work readiness certificate.
“When people walk in with the course certification, they’ll have all the qualifications to work in a telecommuting situation,” Murphy said.
Established telecommuters working in the digital field can more successfully move their home offices to the Adirondacks, as opposed to vacationing here, according to Keene resident Dave Nethaway, who is vice president of technology for the Human Services Research Institution, based in Cambridge, Mass.
“The Adirondacks for us was always a place we said we’d want to retire one day or, if we were financially able, buy a second home,” Nethaway said. “Then we thought, ‘Why not live the dream now?’”
From his Boston office, Nethaway established a technology management network for his company’s West Coast branch.
“We wanted to recruit the best candidates for the job without losing the opportunity because they didn’t want to live where our offices were,” Nethaway said.
Essentially, Nethaway built a system to support telecommuting and then used it himself by moving to the Adirondack Park with his wife, Jessica Hartley.
Nethaway said he can’t do his job without email, VoIP technologies (voice over Internet protocol), chat technologies, video conferencing, mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), online collaboration services like Sharepoint, VPN (virtual private network) and other remote access technologies.
During the first two years the couple lived in Keene, they both telecommuted for companies based in Boston. Hartley eventually took a position locally as the executive director for the North Country SPCA, based in Elizabethtown.
“My wife and I had always come here for hiking or vacations,” Nethaway said. “We were married in Lake Placid. When we first decided to move here, we really didn’t have a place picked out, so we cast a wide net of where we could live.”
Ultimately, their decisions were narrowed down to locations with sufficient broadband for their work.
“Most of the bigger communities have big companies like Time Warner or Charter Communications offering broadband services. In Keene, they had to make a community effort and fundraised for a local broadband system,” Nethaway said. “We knew Keene from hiking trips when we were tourists. Now we’ve come to love it since we moved here. We’re moving to a bigger place to support our growing family of dogs and cats, but we’re staying in Keene.”
Moving to Minerva
For Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce Director Lisa Salamon, who lives in the town of Minerva, the viability of telecommuting made it possible for her to move to the Adirondack Park and earn a living. Salamon works in the insurance business as a freelance crisis consultant for businesses and major corporations.
“I moved here from West Chester, Pa., an area with very reliable, very fast fiber optic network. There was never a technical problem,” Salamon said. “I had a lot of travel. There was a lot of working out of home and a lot of time in airports.”
Salamon began working as the new chamber director in January. She had been visiting her traditional log cabin on Minerva Lake with her family for years; it was their vacation home, away from the hustle and bustle of city life in West Chester, a county seat of 18,000 residents just outside of Philadelphia. So why move to the town of Minerva — population around 800 — in New York’s Adirondack Park?
“We had a second home here that we loved, and we were trying to spend more time here,” Salamon said shortly after being hired by the chamber. “We were going back and forth between two homes and said, ‘We love it so much here, why are we doing this?’”
So they moved here in August 2012. Almost empty nesters, the Salamons have two girls, one who’s a senior at Boston University and another who’s a college graduate living in Connecticut. They are proud transplants, Adirondackers at last.
“Just like everyone else here I have several jobs,” Salamon said.
Sustainable connection is key for Salamon to maintain her job and keep up with her work responsibilities.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times Frontier Communications would crash when I was trying to send large files,” Salamon said. “I would recommend people have two or three backups when they work this way.”
One of Salamon’s backup Internet connections is the Town of Johnsburg Library in North Creek, located across the street from her Chamber office at the Tannery Pond Community Center.
“You can’t depend on one service entirely. It is better than it was two or three years ago,” Salamon said. “I’ve gone countless times to the library and parked outside. At 5 or 7 p.m., I’ve seen a couple people doing the same in their cars. All you can see is the glow of their laptops.”
With the addition of a reliable Internet connection, Salamon said a viable telephone connection is a necessity for maintaining her connection to clients.
“I have a Verizon cellphone extender, so it makes my home a hotspot to get cell service,” Salamon said. “It’s a one-time purchase of the extender, then it’s connected through your DSL line and I can get cell service within 1,000 feet of my house.”
Having a cell phone hotspot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Salamon said it’s attracted connection-hungry cell phone users who have parked their cars in front of her house.
“There are camps up my street, and one time a van full of teenagers just stopped in front of my house because all of a sudden they had cell service,” Salamon said. “They kept coming back and sitting in my yard texting or calling people. We eventually disconnected the box for the night.”
Salamon said the extender has otherwise been a god sent. She recommends anyone in who wants to telecommute to purchase the device for their homes.
Nethaway said he realizes that telecommuting isn’t for everyone but for his family it was ideal for letting him embrace the way of life in the Adirondacks while maintaining his career.
“The balance between development and the environment that can be found here,” Nethaway said. “I think that attracting telecommuters can be a way to strengthen and grow our communities while maintaining that balance, especially if we continue to be mindful about how we build out and provide the infrastructure that supports telecommuting.”