USDA Funding to Boost Mt. Comfort Corridor

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NineStar is the first telecommunications co-op to receive REDLG funding in more than a decade. NineStar is the first telecommunications co-op to receive REDLG funding in more than a decade.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $2.3 million in loan and grant funds to Greenfield-based NineStar Connect. The utility says it will use the funding, which comes from the Rural Economic Loan & Grant Program, to help Hancock Regional Hospital build an ambulatory care center at the I-70 interchange at Mount Comfort Road in Hancock County. The project is a key component of a larger effort to grow economic development along the Mount Comfort Corridor.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, NineStar President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Burrow said the focus of the funding is to build rural economic development opportunities. 

"In this case, by Hancock Health building this facility, it's going to bring in 27 highly-skilled, well-paying jobs to the area in terms of creation of new jobs," said Burrow. "Also, what it really does is, particularly for residents in western Hancock County, it gives them an opportunity or a place to be able to have medical testing and those sort of services be available, which ultimately enhances the quality of place for Hancock County."

The funding from NineStar will be used to purchase medical equipment and supplies for the facility, such as computer hardware and software. When complete, the facility will be connected to NineStar's high-speed fiber network. Some of the new jobs that will be created with the center include medical technicians, phlebotomists, diagnostic imaging technicians, nurse practitioners, and certified medical assistants, among others. 

The Hancock Health project is one of four "nodes" identified in a study by the Urban Land Institute that could create opportunities for economic development along the 13-mile stretch of I-70. The new facility, which Burrow says is expected to be complete in September, is part of a broader economic development strategy from Hancock Regional Hospital.

"Phase I is the Hancock Health facility, and Phase II will be a campus with mixed use development, including commercial, retail and affordable residential housing," Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health, said in a news release. "REDLG funding used in Phase I of the medical facility will help ensure we can begin Phase II."

The $2.3 million in funding is the most awarded through the REDLG program and NineStar is the first rural telecommunications cooperative to receive the funds in more than a decade. Hancock Health will eventually repay NineStar, which will return the $2 million in loans to the USDA at the end of the 10-year term.

Burrow says the focus of the funding is to build rural economic development opportunities.
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