BERWICK — The final equipment to improve internet services in most of Montour County and parts of Rush Township and Riverside should be installed next week, Jennifer Wakeman told the DRIVE board Wednesday at its annual meeting at Rolling Pines Country Club.

She expects private companies to start contracting with DRIVE, Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy, for the broadband services by early March. 

Wakeman, the DRIVE executive director, said more information will be announced later on DRIVE's website. DRIVE serves as the economic development organization for Montour and Columbia counties.

"We are working with Geisinger for a ribbon-cutting," she said. Geisinger provided a $300,000 forgivable, interest-free loan to fund the pilot project. The project, in the works for 1 1/2 years, has never been done before in this area, she said. DRIVE will own the infrastructure.

The open access network will be available to any company that wants to contract with DRIVE.

Geisinger provided the funds for the first phase of the project to invest in the local economy and also in the community's health, Geisinger officials previously said. The money for the infrastructure will distribute internet services through third-party vendors. Benefits will allow providers and patients to better connect remotely to health services, Timothy Fitzgerald, vice president of treasury and financial systems for Geisinger, previously said.

The initial work to install technology for a microwave internet distribution occurred at four locations in Montour County, including the county's 911 tower, the Montour County Emergency Management Agency building, Geisinger's Hospital for Advanced Medicine and USG near Washingtonville.

New chairman, re-elections

DRIVE board members also elected a new chairman. Dr. John DeFinnis, who has served as chairman since DRIVE was formed five years ago, handed a large gavel to new Chairman Denny Hummer, of Danville. "I felt it was time to pass the gavel," DeFinnis, of Berwick, said.

Hummer serves as incubator manager of the Small Business Development Center of Bucknell University.  He has been a board member for two years and said he lives on his family farm.

DeFinnis, who recalled when a task force first met to form DRIVE, said the organization is off to a great start. "I think we chose the right vehicle," he said. "I couldn't be happier with Jennifer and her staff. They have done an outstanding job," he said of Wakeman, office and project manager Tim Hippensteel, and unpaid intern Aidan McDonald. The board also approved 5 percent raises for Wakeman and Hippensteel.

DeFinnis said DRIVE has accomplished much in a short period of time. "It's unbelievable what has happened," he said.   

"I hope I can do as well in the job as your leadership has taken us. I feel regionalizing our resources in economic development is the most important thing we can focus on to bring Central Pennsylvania to compete in the global economy," Hummer said.

The board re-elected Greg Cole, of Danville, as vice chairman; Dan Knorr, of Bloomsburg, as treasurer; and Dean Girton, as secretary.