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From left to right, Ryan Smith, president, University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College, Kent Eldridge, BREC vice president of member services, Jon Husted, Lt. Governor, John Carey, director, governor’s office of Appalachia announce Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative broadband infrastructure grant.


Buckeye cooperative announces broadband infrastructure grant

RIO GRANDE, Ohio — A $2.5 million grant to the Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative for the installation of 168 miles of fiber connecting the co-op’s six substations will lay the groundwork for better broadband service in southeast Ohio.

The project will allow for future broadband expansion by internet service providers (ISP), who will supply “last mile” service to connect homes and businesses to high-speed internet in the remote unserved and underserved areas of Gallia, Vinton, Meigs, Athens, Lawrence, and Jackson counties, officials said at a celebratory announcement earlier this month at the University of Rio Grande.

The grant was awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. The project was hailed by Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted as “critically important for the future of the region.”

The initiative will improve service reliability and security and utilize available technologies among BREC’s substations via a fiber infrastructure.

“Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative is committing $1.1 million to the project, with the ARC POWER Initiative grant providing the additional $2.5 million, or 70%, of the $3.6 million cost. It will take three years to complete the project,” said Kent Eldridge, BREC vice president of member services. “There must be a starting point for broadband to reach remote rural areas. The ARC grant will provide just that, and Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative will be the vehicle to transport service, thanks to the initial Southeast Ohio Broadband Backbone project.”

John Carey, director of the governor’s officer of Appalachia, thanked BREC and noted his pride that the co-op stood up to address the issue of rural broadband access. He further stated that BREC serves as an example to the state’s electric cooperative network.

The Nov. 7 event, hosted by Ryan Smith, president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College, introduced one of 54 investments totaling $44.4 million via ARC’s POWER initiative, a congressionally funded opportunity targeting federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries, as a result of the changing economics of America’s energy production.

A portion of the ARC POWER Initiative funds were set aside to fund broadband deployment projects that enhance access to and the use of broadband services, which is a critical infrastructure component needed by all segments of the community for business development, job creation, and health care services, including telemedicine, officials said.

Founded in 1938, not-for-profit, Rio Grande-based Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative serves approximately 19,000 consumer-members in parts of Athens, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton counties.

Groups team up to identify workforce skills

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute in partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Appalachian Power will undertake a comprehensive analysis of the skills and abilities of workers in 23 West Virginia counties as part of a broader effort to help diversify the state’s economy.

The study is made possible through an EDA grant and matching funds from Appalachian Power, which total more than $112,000. “EDA and Appalachian Power have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to investing in our communities, with a strong focus on workforce development as a path toward economic diversification,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI director & CEO. “A critical component of this effort is having a comprehensive understanding of the skills and abilities of the region’s workforce, particularly related to the transferable skills of underemployed and unemployed workers.”

The workforce analysis, expected to begin in early spring and be completed by fall 2020, will focus on the following counties: Boone, Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Nicholas, Ohio, Putnam, Raleigh, Roane, Summers, Wayne, and Wyoming.

A similar effort in eastern Kentucky provided economic development officials with workforce data that has resulted in $2 billion in capital investment and the creation of 3,000 jobs. The West Virginia study will aid in preparing the state’s workforce to transition to other occupations as well as attract new jobs and capital investment in sectors that might benefit from the abundant skills of the region’s workforce.

RCBI has provided technical assistance to more than 6,000 manufacturers across the country and delivered skills training to nearly 24,000 individuals — including displaced miners and others affected by the decline in the coal industry — in manufacturing technologies that have helped them transition to other sectors such as aerospace, energy, automotive and information services.

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