Broadband expansion work begins in N. Carolina

Published 12:16 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A $145 million project to extend broadband Internet access to rural areas throughout North Carolina was launched with a groundbreaking ceremony last week. The project, funded by federal government allocations and private contributions, will install 440 miles of fiber optic lines that will serve hospitals, government buildings, libraries and schools. Nearly 1,300 schools are expected to benefit from the project. The lines also will provide access to broadband service to more than 300,000 families and 180,000 businesses along the network.

The groundbreaking ceremony, attended by N.C. Governor Bev Perdue, was held at the Hickory headquarters of

CommScope, which will provide the cable lines.

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This is going to be vital if Im going to be able to level the playing field for children in poor northeast and southwest school systems, said Perdue. This network is changing the possibilities for our children.

The governor added the network will enhance entrepreneurial opportunities for more people in the state in the emerging technologically based economy.


North Carolina will receive $461 million from the U.S. Treasury to boost lending to small businesses in the state.&bsp; The State Small Business Credit Initiative funding is expected to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses and create new jobs. The funds, along with small business tax cuts and new loan programs, are part of the Small Business Jobs Act recently signed by President Obama.

In all my conversations with small business leaders across North Carolina, Ive heard common concerns, said Gov. Bev Perdue. They cant grow, or put people back to work until they have access to credit. North Carolina is ahead of the game with programs already in place to help get the money moving the moment it arrives.

Under the State Small Business Credit Initiative, states are offered the opportunity to apply for federal funds for programs that partner with private lenders to extend greater credit to small businesses. The initiative allows states to use existing lending programs, such as collateral support, Capital Access and loan guarantee programs.&bsp; &bsp;

States are required to show a minimum bang for the buck of $10 in new private lending for every $1 in federal funding. North Carolina is receiving $46.1 million from the federal government that is expected to result in $461 million in additional private lending. Nationwide, the program is expected to support $14 billion in additional private lending.


A $5 million federal grant that is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed earlier this year will accelerate Blue Ridge Community Health Services plans to build a new facility so it can serve 5,000 more patients.

Blue Ridge CEO Jennifer Henderson said the grant, one of only four awarded to health care organizations in the state, will provide a major boost for not only her organization but the local economy. Construction of the 27,000-sq. ft. building is expected to create 104 new jobs and add $3.7 million in income to Henderson County, according to an economic impact study.

The facility, which will be at the intersection of U.S. 64 east and Howard Gap Road, will be home to the Kate B. Reynolds Childrens Center, Blue Ridge Family Practice, radiology and laboratory services, medical support services, mental health services, a pharmacy and a 120-seat community room.

Blue Ridge, a medical care provider for underserved and uninsured Henderson County residents, is working to raise another $2 million to cover the cost of the $7 million facility. Construction is expected to begin this year, and be completed by next fall.


A discussion about Pardee Hospital has been added to the agenda for the Henderson County Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday after medical staff at the hospital met this week to discuss concerns about a potential sale of the hospital. Staff said they had heard county commissioners may have discussed selling the hospital to a competitor.

Bill Moyer, chairman of the Henderson County board, said he added the agenda item to help clarify the situation. He says one county commissioner, Larry Young, is advocating the sale and the meeting will give Young a chance to explain his thoughts. Commissioner Church McGrady said he also believes it is an important issue to discuss, particularly given the pending joint venture between Pardee and Mission Hospital.


The Transylvania County Board of Commissioners has selected a site for a new animal shelter after discussing for nearly six years the need to replace the current, outdated shelter. Citizens have urged the county to replace the current shelter, built in the 1950s, because they believe its poor condition jeopardizes the welfare of the animals. The new shelter will be on old U.S. 64 about halfway between Brevard and Rosman.


Police in Florence, S.C. responded to a potential hate crime against an Islamic center there.&bsp; Police reported that someone arranged bacon strips on a walkway at the center to spell out PIG CHUMP. Muslims are restricted from eating pork by Islamic dietary guidelines.

Mushtag Hussain, one of about 50 people who worship at the center when its in operation, said its clear someone intended to offend them. Hussain, who moved from Pakistan about 25 years ago and now owns a rug business in Florence, added that windows at the center were broken about nine months ago, but members have never felt scared.


Utilities in North Carolina can count energy produced from burning new timber toward state requirements for more renewable energy. The N.C. Utilities Commission decided a Duke Energy subsidiary can count as renewable the electricity generated by burning wood chips from trees cut down in forests and on farms. The subsidiary also plans to burn sawdust and other wood waste for the same purpose. Environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized the commissions decision, saying a 2007 state law to increase renewable energy, allowed utilities to use wood waste, but not to cut down trees for burning. The law center called this week for new safeguards to protect the states forests.


BMW will begin using hydrogen fuel cells to run equipment at its Greer, S.C. plant. The company says the move is part of its commitment to use alternative energy sources. BMW already uses methane from the Palmetto Landfill to obtain about half of the energy used by the plant. &bsp;

The fuel cells, which will initially power a fleet of 85 vehicles to transport goods and equipment in the plant, will be used in BMWs new Assembly North facility, created to make the X3 Sports Activity Vehicle. The new facility will house six fueling stations for the hydrogen fuel cells, which can run for 8 to 10 hours on a full tank, and be refueled in less than three minutes. BMW says the fuel cells will reduce the plant’s electricity consumption by 1.8 million kilowatt hours per year.


Duke Energy has partnered with two companies for new solar energy projects. Duke Energy Generation Services will work with Integrys Energy Services and Smart Energy Capital on the projects, which will produce electricity for commercial, government and utility customers under long-term agreements.

Duke and Integrys plan to invest up to $180 million over the next two years on projects with rooftop and ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays that will generate renewable energy close to the end user.


The Wake County Board of Education has reversed a controversial zone-based assignment plan designed to keep students at schools close to their homes. The board, which approved the reversal by a 5-3 vote, said the decision does not mean the district will return to its former model, which sent students outside their immediate area to ensure greater diversity. Instead, the board said it will start over with discussions about a new assignment plan, taking more time to consider the issue and gaining more input from the community.

Debra Goldman, one of four new school board members elected last fall to end the policy of promoting socioeconomic diversity and move toward neighborhood schools, was one of the five members voting to restart the process. Goldman said she had concerns about how the new assignment plan was crafted, but she remains committed to creating community-based schools. The board again heard from citizens urging a return to the former diversity policy. They say the policy creates more opportunities for students who would be stuck in low-performing schools under a zone-assignment plan.


The 143rd North Carolina State Fair began this week in Raleigh and will continue through October 24.

The fair shows off the best North Carolina has to offer, and visitors can’t seem to get enough. Last year’s attendance of 877,939 set a record. The fair, which drew 877,939 visitors last year, will again include a wide range of activities, including livestock shows, cooking contests, educational exhibits, gardening demonstrations, rides, a folk festival, a kids park and fireworks. The concert lineup for the 2010 N.C. State Fair will feature a mix of country, contemporary Christian, rhythm and blues, rock and old-time string music on the Dorton Arena stage throughout the fair from October 14 to October 24.

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