Telecom Co-Op Ventures Into Water, Sewer

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Small section of NineStar Connect's water and sweage coverage area is shaded in purple. Small section of NineStar Connect's water and sweage coverage area is shaded in purple.

Greenfield-based NineStar Connect says it is the first rural co-op in the country to offer four utilities. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has granted approval for the utility to provide water and wastewater services. Chief Executive Officer Michael Burrow tells Inside INdiana Business the move has already paid off, citing the availability of public "wet utilities" as a key factor in Wisconsin-based County Materials Corp. deciding to expand in Maxwell.

Burrow believes NineStar Connect's diversified model can be applied anywhere in the country. He says there is increasing pressure on co-operatives that only offer one service to balance the price customers pay with continuing to offer service as population bases in rural communities continue to shrink. "I think it's important for some rural utilities who maybe have previously had some success offering a single service to consider that maybe their future lies in not being a single service provider, but being a multiple service provider." He says by offering multiple utilities, his co-op can help serve as an economic driver. "You're investing in infrastructure in such a way that it actually encourages other people to come to your community or come to the area you serve and make additional investments. Then you might actually be able to reverse the declining population investment."

Burrow says developers simply won't look at property that is not served by public utilities. "Two-thirds of the land in Hancock County currently is unserved by any water or sewer utility, and the lack of access to wet utility infrastructure is a hindrance to residential and commercial economic development."

NineStar Connect expects to close soon on the purchase of infrastructure assets in Riley Village, Maxwell and Eden, which it says will allow the co-op to take on its first wet utility customers at the end of the month.

In a Perspectives piece that ran last week in the Inside INdiana Business enewsletters, Burrow said rural co-ops need to use "creative solutions" to keep the communities they serve from being left behind.

Map of coverage area provided by NineStar Connect:

The co-op has detailed more about its plans for water and sewer infrastructure by clicking here.

NineStar Connect Chief Executive Officer Michael Burrow believes NineStar Connect's more diversified model can be applied anywhere in the country.
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