DOVER, OHIO – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited the Tuscarawas County Chamber of Commerce today to speak about rural broadband access, Small Business Administration (SBA) economic recovery funds, and the effect of health insurance reform on small businesses.

“It’s critical that we work together to set policies in Washington that reflect the needs of families and businesses in Tuscarawas County,” Brown said. “I’m fighting to ensure that federal economic recovery efforts work for Tuscarawas County.”

Brown is working to connect small businesses in Tuscarawas County with access to credit and other funding opportunities from the economic recovery legislation. Brown’s office recently conducted a workshop at Kent State-Tuscarawas with SBA officials to help small businesses in the region learn about economic recovery funding.

“Funds passed in the economic recovery legislation can provide critical support to small businesses in Tuscarawas County,” Brown said. “Now more than ever, we are looking to the small business community for the innovation that fuels our economy. By making sure that small businesses have access to credit and can continue to grow, we can rebuild our economy and create new opportunities for job growth.”
The Senator also discussed his efforts to expand rural broadband access in rural areas. The higher cost of providing broadband access in less-populated areas has created a “digital divide,” undermining economic development and online educational opportunities in rural communities. The median revenue among broadband-connected businesses in Ohio grew twice as fast as those that do not use broadband, according to a study by ConnectOhio. Last month, Brown brought U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager to Ohio to connect potential broadband providers with information on economic recovery funds to expand rural broadband. Brown successfully fought to include $7.2 billion in the economic recovery package to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved communities. The funds are expected to create jobs and promote long-term economic growth while encouraging investment in infrastructure and technology.

“If we want to promote economic development throughout Ohio, we need to ensure that businesses and households have broadband access,” Brown said. “Rural communities have been overlooked for too long.”

Brown also addressed what health insurance reform would mean for small businesses.  High health costs are also undermining the competitiveness of Ohio businesses. While small businesses make up 72 percent of Ohio businesses, only 47 percent of them offered health coverage benefits in 2006, a decrease of 5 percent since 2000. Businesses also pay high costs to cover their employees, due to limited choice of health insurance in Ohio. The top two health insurance providers account for 58 percent of the health insurance market in Ohio. Health insurance reform would provide tax credits to help small businesses continue to offer insurance to their employees, or to offer it for the first time.  It would enable small businesses to band together in regional purchasing pools so they can secure large group rates.

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