WAGGA'S leaders say boosting digital connectivity should be a top priority to help local businesses stay competitive in a global market.
Yet inadequate internet speeds and coverage are among the challenges singled out by the business community in a recent economic development study from Wagga City Council.
As it looks to understand the business community's needs for the future, the council discovered that 47 per cent of its survey respondents noted that poor internet service has been creating obstacles.
Dianna Somerville, of Working Space HQ, said digital connectivity is non-negotiable for a business that wants to stay relevant, especially on a global scale.
She said "faster, more reliable" internet is required to enable businesses to meet growing market demands.
"Our data speeds are not up to scratch with global standards and they need to be if we want to be competing with the global market because Wagga has the capacity to do so, and has successfully done so in the past," she said.
The council's recent study showed that the retail sector has suffered a significant blow to its confidence and performance compared to two years ago.
"Sometimes it is the changing culture, but also the drought has had a massive impact on our city," Mrs Somerville said.
"But on a whole, retail businesses are starting to see that consumers are demanding fast, reliable online services to compliment their shopping experiences and as a result they need to look at having a good blend of bricks and clicks."
Despite many vocalising their concerns about some shortcomings, Mrs Somerville said the community is not oblivious to the investments coming through at a local and state level.
This week, the state government announced almost $30 million in funding to advance the development of the Bomen freight and logistics hub. The council plans to use $1.3 million of the funding to improve digital connectivity in the special activation precinct.
Mrs Somerville said the investment gives Wagga a competitive edge to lure businesses away from metropolitan centres.
"When you look at the special activation precinct, having high speed internet into that location will make a difference on a competitive landscape for Wagga as a community," she said.
"The types of bigger businesses that the city will attract because of this will definitely forge our city into the future."
Wagga has also been earmarked for the state government's Regional Digital Connectivity program, which will investigate the design of data hubs and fibre cables to make internet connectivity faster and more reliable.
"It is a fantastic example of how the government is working to address the issues that businesses have been saying for a number of years and people are seeing that there is traction there and this is really important to address," Mrs Somerville said.
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She said the attention to boosting digital connectivity has been strengthening Wagga as a regional centre and preparing it for its future growth.
"The power of the internet now means businesses can be based anywhere and have a business that services a global market," she said.
It is because of this reason, Regional Development Association director and chief executive Rachel Whiting said high-performing internet "is not desired, but required" for businesses to compete locally, and globally.
"There is definitely a trend in the decline of traditional retail and there has been talk for many years now that retail businesses are going to struggle if they are not also online," she said.
"There is no doubt - just with the changing economy and consumers' expectations - that customers want to walk into stores but they also want to look for products online, which definitely affects retail."
The need for high speed, wide coverage internet extends to other sectors as well, according to Ms Whiting. The agriculture industry has also experienced a drop in confidence and performance alongside the retail sector.
Ms Whiting said through the challenges, the agriculture industry has shown great innovations.
"The internet is needed to access all the apps and different services to that sector and they are not always available with internet connectivity," she said.
"But what we have seen is during those difficulties there have been innovations and solutions too. We have innovators in our region who have been able to work out solutions for those farms that don't have 4G. Sometimes what those problems throw up, through innovation, creates new solutions."
Despite the "unsurprising" survey result showing the retail and agricultural sectors feeling less confident, Ms Whiting said it was promising to see thriving businesses in the health and education industry.
"Wagga council sees themselves as a hub in the region and that is why health and education are very confident because as the population grows those are two areas that must also grow," she said.
"While that's a growing area, we of course know that sector is going to feel strong."
Wagga City Council's regional activation director Michael Keys said the council has been actively working on solutions to the feedback received, however there is "not an overnight fix".
"The feedback we are getting is that retail is finding it tough and looking at the economy it is struggling to get people to go out and put money into our local retail outlet," he said.
Despite the state of the current economy, the council's results show local businesses have a favourable outlook of the city's future economic health.
"We are conscious and keen to look at what we can do and measures to support existing businesses while attracting new businesses to the area," Mr Keys said.
"The council is working on the CBD master plan in the next 12 months to reinvigorate the area. We want to be competitive not only in Wagga, but nationally and internationally and to do that our businesses need to access the digital world."
Mr Keys said the internet quality is a core concern for businesses, but there is no cheap, easy solution. He said the state government's Regional Digital Connectivity program and the recent funding announcement for Bomen will help improve digital connectivity.
"There is no flick of the switch solution, but we want to be working on real time solutions that will deliver results," he said.