Washington County woman creates user-friendly computer program for farmers, fishermen

Posted May 20, 2013, at 5:28 p.m.
Susan Corbett, founder of Axiom Technolgies
Susan Corbett, founder of Axiom Technolgies

MACHIAS, Maine — Susan Corbett of Axiom Technologies, referred to as the “Internet goddess” of Washington County, is hosting a party this week to celebrate reaching one major milestone and the launch of another.

The event will mark the end of a grant that allowed her company to develop a unique software program, MAP On Line, to streamline required reporting for farmers, fishers and others in the agriculture sector. Corbett also is celebrating the initiation of a second grant that will provide free computer literacy classes for Washington County residents.

MAP stands for marine, agriculture and pesticides, and the program may be accessed online through any device. A lobsterman, for example, can sit on his boat at sea and through his smartphone enter key data, such as the weather, number of traps and their depth and his catch, required by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Or the lobsterman can wait until he gets home and use his computer to enter the data. Either way, using MAP On Line is more efficient and easier than using the state’s paper filing system, Corbett said.

Corbett said it was her own experience as a recreational lobster licensee that prompted her to seek and obtain a grant to develop programming to make reporting easier, more comprehensive and less of a burden on fishermen. Ten percent of all lobstermen randomly get “tagged” or selected annually to report a wide range of information to DMR. Five years ago, Corbett was selected and discovered that even though she only drops five traps each season, the reporting process was time-consuming and not user-friendly.

“If I was having such a hard time with just five traps, can you imagine someone who puts in 800 traps?” she said.

Corbett said the program she developed simplifies the form.

The MAP On Line program was developed over the last three years with input from fishermen who actually have to file the reporting data. Although fishermen not in the program can still submit paper reporting forms, DMR has agreed to accept MAP On Line as a reporting tool.

The project began with 10 fishermen and their families. Each fisherman was given a laptop and computer literacy classes. None of the participating fishermen are paying a fee to be in the program.

When word got out that she was developing the MAP On Line plan for fishermen, farmers began approaching her. Corbett then expanded the program to include information for farmers to track their crops, pesticide applications, weather, the cost of seed, and even their harvest. Ten farmers are also now taking classes and helping to develop software for reporting to the Maine Department of Agriculture.

“When you start adding in boat payments, bait costs, capital expenditures, the MAP On Line becomes a profit and loss statement for their businesses,” she said.

The 20 farmers and fishermen using the program are still helping Axiom develop and refine the software and have not yet begun submitting data to DMR or the Department of Agriculture.

“The plan is to market the software throughout the state once its development is completed,” Corbett said. “We’ll have a soft rollout of the program this summer. It is incredibly exciting.”

Corbett founded Axiom Technologies in 2005 to provide rural broadband service in Washington County. Her efforts have brought her nationwide attention and funding. Area residents even took to calling her the “ Internet Goddess.”

She has received seven ConnectME grants to expand broadband access in Maine and has brought high-speed Internet service to more than 46 towns and 2,500 square miles of Washington County. In September 2010, Axiom also was awarded a $1.4 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant.

To implement aspects of the grant, she has been working with the University of Maine at Machias, Downeast Community Hospital, Central Maine Medical Center College of Nursing, Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, and the Sunrise County Blueberry Cooperative. The broadband grant was used in part to develop the MAP On Line program, but also provided, among other things, remote learning sites for nursing students and continuing education for registered nurses.

“This type of collaboration is not happening in other states,” Corbett said. “We have really nurtured this collaboration on a statewide level.”

But it is her work in Washington County that is giving her the greatest satisfaction. Corbett recognizes that broadband capability can turn the economic tide in Washington County, one of the poorest counties in the state, and with a $300,000 grant from the Gorman Foundation, Axiom is now been offering free computer literacy classes throughout the county, in partnership with the Sunrise County Economic Council.

“Since mid-January, more than 250 people have taken classes and we have 100 more on a waiting list,” she said.

The classes range from a dozen students in a basic computer class to individual tutoring for specific needs.

“How we teach is as important as what we teach,” Corbett said. “For the adult learner, they originally learned their computer skills because they had to — there was a need at work, for example. Now they are learning because of a desire.”

As the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant comes to an end, Corbett said her mission continues.

In addition to the far-reaching economic benefits these projects can provide to local industries and communities, Axiom has hired five new workers to handle the different programs. Corbett also made a major investment earlier this year with the purchase of the so-called Five And Dime building on Water Street, where Axiom is now headquartered.

“We hope to serve as a prototype for similar projects in the state, compiling best practices and measuring changes in job creation for use in future broadband deployment plans,” she said.

Axiom’s celebration of the broadband grant’s success will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at the University of Maine at Machias Performing Arts Center. The keynote speaker will be U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling.

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