A broadband project that will bring high-speed internet access to more than 700 homes and businesses in multiple areas of Halifax County is moving forward.

The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) board at its Friday morning meeting approved an economic development grant agreement with Halifax County to manage the broadband project.

Halifax County and Empower Broadband, Inc., a subsidiary of the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), recently were awarded a $710,514 Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The grant agreement approved at Friday’s IDA meeting states the county will provide funds to the IDA for making the grant to Empower.

“The county appreciates the IDA’s consideration to facilitate this project. This is a good way for us to work together,” said county administrator Scott Simpson. He added the broadband fiber will pass by 679 residences in multiple parts of the county, and the project has been “well received” by residents of those areas who are already asking when they can expect to have high-speed Internet access as a result of the project.

“When are people likely to have their broadband service?” asked board member Rick Harrell.

“Within the next six to eight months,” Simpson replied.

The project will entail the construction of 55 miles of fiber and connect 703 units to high speed broadband. Of the 703 total connections, 15 are businesses and community anchors. The total project cost is $3.6 million, with MEC contributing $2.9 million in matching funds.

Board member Nancy Pool commended Simpson for his work on the broadband project.

“It is a big deal, and I appreciate all the work that Scott has done,” Pool said. “It is really helping with our capacity building.”

Board member Brandon Scearce commented, “Now is the perfect time to extend internet access to our rural areas with the COVID-19 pandemic (ongoing).”

The broadband project recently garnered the attention of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. The governor visited the future site of the SOVA Innovation Hub in downtown South Boston on July 30 and spoke about the importance of the expansion of broadband in rural areas.

“This is an equity issue. This is something that we have been fighting for a long time to make sure that all Virginians have access to broadband,” Gov. Northam said. “As we speak there are still about 600,000 individuals across our Commonwealth that don’t have that access. COVID-19 has really brought these things into focus for all of us.”

John Lee Jr., president of CEO of MEC and Empower Broadband, also shared his thoughts on the project at the press conference.

“We are thankful to be working with Halifax County whose strong and solid commitment to its citizens has been evident in our collective efforts to deliver to those living here the best of the best internet service and allow them to compete for much needed economic and educational opportunities,” Lee said.

In other business at Friday’s meeting, IDA executive director Brian Brown shared with the board news of a GO Virginia grant to create a “Bridge to Recovery” program to help Virginia Region 3, which includes Halifax County, recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GO Virginia State Board approved $925,000 for Bridge to Recovery to provide support to businesses throughout the recovery periods of the pandemic and “bridge supply chain needs of companies with service providers,” according to a news release on the Bridge to Recovery program.

Businesses invited to apply as a prequalified supplier include suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), companies who provide PPE conversions such as construction and building projects for COVID-19 and service providers who help companies with COVID-19 issues, according to the release. Applications for the program are available at www.SoVaBridgeToRecovery.com.

In other new business, the IDA board discussed a regional entrepreneurship initiative led by Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and the Longwood Small Business Development Center. The goal of the initiative is to support entrepreneurs and innovation using regional resources, IDA assistant director Tracy Mallard shared with the board. The initiative’s report will be finalized in the near future and a link will be shared on the IDA’s website.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.