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HUNTINGTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was in Huntington on Friday afternoon for a ceremonial check presentation to Thundercloud Inc. for broadband expansion in the Huntington area.

Justice announced the state was matching a $2.3 million Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant announced earlier this month that was awarded to Thundercloud Inc., a nonprofit that consists of local entities including Marshall University, Marshall Health and Mountain Health Network, for the city’s Thundercloud Gigabit City Deployment project.

The project will support approximately 25 miles of fiber construction to create a fiber loop that will connect Barboursville to downtown Huntington and deploy an underground fiber ring linking businesses and anchor institutions to gigabit speed infrastructure.

Once fully operational, it is estimated 500 businesses will use the fiber ring and that it will be part of a larger planned broadband network in the nine-county Advantage Valley region.

“There is no question what an incredible and worthy project this is going to be within this area,” Justice said during the ceremony at Pullman Square. “Broadband is the next horizon and if we have the dollars available to us today, should we not try to match it? I thought there was a real way to do it, so here we are today with a matching check.”

The matching funds were made possible through the West Virginia CARES Act Broadband Fund, according to Justice.

Justice credited state Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, for calling him and asking the state to match the ARC grant.

“He asked if there was any way the state could match the ARC grant and then take those dollars to expand what they are doing and do something even greater,” Justice said. “All it takes is an idea and a phone call.”

Plymale serves as the chairman of the Thundercloud organization and led the development of the organization and advanced the support of the organization among local elected officials, federal and state delegations, Marshall University and the project’s private partner, Alpha Technologies.

“We know that the leverage on this is tremendous,” Plymale said. “What you will see is the $2.3 million investment from the state and the $2.3 million from ARC turn into a $17 million project.”

Plymale called the project a regional plan that will transform the area. He said the project is expected to boost telehealth and telelearning progress, drive new economic development, and serve downtown and technology park businesses seeking better broadband access.

Plymale added that the loop will also connect to the Thundercloud Data Center, which is planned for a federally designated Opportunity Zone. He said the center will provide state-of-the-art, secure, dual-redundant, high-capacity data storage and cloud-computing capacity for the greater Huntington region and would also connect to the established data center in South Charleston.

Speakers at the ceremony were Huntington Mayor Steve Williams; Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert; Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell; Doug Tate with Alpha Technologies; and Abby Reale with Mountain Health Network.

Linville said the project brings 144 strands of fiber that providers can use to connect customers.

“This will enable another 500 businesses to be more competitive, and that means jobs,” he said.

Gilbert said the role of high-speed internet is a critical factor in advancing West Virginia’s economy.

“Today we are celebrating a high-capacity broadband initiative that’s going to have immense impact on our communities,” Gilbert said. “The Thundercloud initiative with support from the ARC and now support from the state is going to have better connectivity for all of the people in our region.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

Fred has been in the newspaper industry for 30+ years. He continues to be excited to bring readers news that only comes thru local journalism. “Being able to share the passion felt by entrepreneurs in our community with readers is exciting,” he said.

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