Improving broadband internet access between St. Barbe and Trout River will again be one of the major focuses of the Red Ochre Regional Board this coming year.
With less than a third of the 34 communities in economic zone seven connected to high speed internet, the organization hopes they can play a part in leveraging support from service providers.
Outgoing chair Gloria Toope ‘s final chairperson report presented at the annual general meeting last Tuesday night pointed to the fact that access to information communication technology (ICT) was critical for growth of business in the region.
"These numbers are a real concern," she said.
"The board will continue to follow up with service providers and funding agencies to promote additional expansion of internet connections in the zone within the next three years.
"Public awareness to encourage business and community advance use of ICT will also continue."
Ms. Toope's report said that only 38 per cent of the more than 300 businesses in the region were using email and had their own websites and that just 57 per cent of the population, estimated in 2010 to be 8968, had access to broadband internet.
The drive for better connectivity was one of several key messages delivered at the AGM held in Hawkes Bay.
Tying in with the theme of communication, Ms. Toope's report also noted the economic development board's concept paper and funding proposal for the establishment of five communication centres at Plum Point, Port Saunders, Parsons Pond, Norris Point and Woody Point.
The centres would provide video and teleconference access for community groups and business owners in zone seven that will "reduce travel cost and the time volunteers and business owners must spend travelling to meetings or workshops."
"Outcomes will be stronger engagement of volunteers/business owners, access to affordable training through the internet and reduce cost associated with travel," the report said.
The communication centre project will be in partnership with community and education stakeholders.
The chair's report also touched on numerous other achievements and topics including tourism and the importance of the port of St. Barbe.
According to their data, more than 186,000 tourists visited the Northern Peninsula in 2010 and 2011 and of that more than 80,000 travelled through the port of St. Barbe.
"This volume of traffic is changing the nature of tourism and transportation services [in the zone]," the report said adding that the board was working with the geospatial research facility at the College of the North Atlantic to identify existing infrastructure in the port.
According to the group's latest labour market profile, tourism contributes $45.4 million per year to the economy of zone seven, employing 1580 across more than 150 direct and indirect businesses in the tourism and service sector.
Public service - through 14 municipalities, Parks Canada, Western School District and Western Health - contributed $66.8 million per year in economic value to the region and employed 668 people.
The fishery has seen a decline in economic value from almost $50 million per year in 2008 to $35 million per year in 2011 with eight fish plants, 467 fishing boats and one salmon hatchery employing 564 fish harvesters and 499 fish plant workers.
The report said that in 1992, there were some 1450 harvesters and 1560 plant workers while the number of boats had almost halved from their 1992 figure of 1061.
Ms. Toope wasn't the only presenter at the AGM with Nalcor Lower Churchill vice president Gilbert Bennett also on hand to deliver a presentation on the proposed Lower Churchill transmission line.
Mr. Bennett, whose company sponsored the networking session at the end of the evening, answered several questions from the floor after his presentation, which gave a comprehensive overview of the project including the current work underway in the Strait of Belle Isle near Shoal Cove and Forteau.