Southside cooperative expands to attract money, jobs

High-tech companies wouldn’t want to come to the region without access to broadband to send large amounts of data quickly.

Twelve years ago, Southside leaders foresaw the need for the rural region to be able to compete like this with larger cities in attracting new industry as textiles and furniture began leaving the region. And it wasn’t just localized broadband infrastructure or access to the Internet that mattered, but also direct connection to places like Washington or Atlanta and onto the world that would enable companies to compete.

To bridge the rural-urban gap in broadband, the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative started working in January 2004 to build out a robust fiber optic network across the region. In the fall of 2006 with 600 miles of fiber built, the cooperative “lit the network,” said President and CEO Tad Deriso.

Now, MBC owns and manages more than 1,500 miles of fiber and will have close to $100 million in assets by the end of the year, he said.

None of that would exist today without federal grants and Virginia Tobacco Commission money. As of Dec. 31, MBC had received $73.4 million in grants. Of that, $48.3 million came from the Tobacco Commission. Grant funding is expected to reach more than $90 million by the end of the year.

What’s the return? To date, access to broadband through MBC helped to attract $916 million in private sector capital investment, Deriso said. In 2011, private investment in the MBC footprint reached more than $322 million, with company additions or expansions creating more than 1,800 jobs, according to MBC’s annual report.