Rural broadband infrastructure is critical infrastructure. That was the shared message of Joe Brannan, executive vice president and CEO of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, and Marshall Cherry, chief operating officer of Roanoke Electric at the, “Energizing Rural North Carolina” event hosted by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
The two-day conference in Pinehurst brought together local economic developers and community leaders from across the state to share insights and develop strategies for encouraging rural economic development through five major building blocks: infrastructure, workforce, education, health and leadership. The event featured remarks by Gov. Roy Cooper and other leaders regarding the need to invest in the state’s rural communities.
During the infrastructure portion of the program, Brannan discussed the electric cooperatives’ role in bringing broadband service to rural North Carolina. Cherry provided a specific example by giving an overview of Roanoke Connect, Roanoke Electric’s $4 million initiative to develop broadband technology that will not only increase grid flexibility and efficiency, but also provide a broadband connection to underserved homes and businesses in its region of the state.
“Roanoke Connect is a win from every angle because it improves system reliability and enables energy cost savings for our members, while also providing them with broadband,” Cherry said. “The program has been successful so far, and we’re looking at future partnerships with local government, healthcare providers, schools, first responders and others who can help us expand its reach and benefits to the communities we serve.”
Brannan and Cherry also discussed how an initiative like Roanoke Connect could be replicated elsewhere in the state, and how those involved in rural economic development can assist in broadband efforts.
“This is an issue we need to address on all fronts,” Brannan said. “Our smaller communities deserve the opportunities that come with reliable connectivity, and we support efforts to make affordable broadband service a reality and promote a high quality of life for all North Carolinians.”
Electric cooperatives provide power to 2.5 million North Carolinians, primarily in rural areas. Expanding access to broadband is one of many initiatives – including economic development and investments in education to create a more prepared local workforce – that cooperatives support to help co-op communities and rural North Carolina thrive.
Visit Roanoke Electric’s website for more information about the Roanoke Connect initiative.