The Biz: Money for broadband

ERC Broadband to get $15 million in stimulus funds

ERC Broadband — a local nonprofit that aims to improve and expand the technological infrastructure — will receive approximately $15 million to build and maintain over 100 miles of fiber-optic cable in five western North Carolina Counties.

The money is part of a $75 million stimulus grant awarded to MCNC by the Department of Commerce.

The company will lay new fiber in five western North Carolina counties: Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell, McDowell and Avery, and in areas that have lacked adequate middle-mile infrastructure, according to Hunter Goosman, ERC’s General Manager. “Middle-mile” is an industry term used to describe that part of the broadband network that allows local cable and internet companies the ability to further provide broadband services to end-users — the “interstate system” of the broadband network.

Here in Buncombe County, the fiber-optic cabling will run to twelve fire stations and to the North Carolina Arboretum, located just south of Asheville. The sites were chosen — in the case of the fire stations — to “support the advancement of the public safety needs of Asheville and Buncombe County” and — in the case of the Arboretum — to “support its role as a community anchor and research institution,” according to Goosman. The Arboretum has research programs in climate change, biotechnology, ethnobotany, horticulture and sustainability.

In Madison County, ERC hopes that its enhanced network will help to spur competition among existing providers and bring down prices for consumers, and in Mitchell and McDowell Counties ERC hopes to provide an “additional geographic route” for local companies to help compete for call centers, data centers and other companies requiring redundant connectivity.

But the county that stands to benefit the most is Avery, which is largely rural and currently has limited access to high-speed connectivity. ERC will lay fiber through Avery County to Appalachian State University in Boone, and the construction will also include schools, hospitals and government offices.

Goosman estimates that the $15 million in stimulus funds for the ERC will create dozens of temporary construction jobs over the next three years, and thousands for western North Carolina indirectly over the long-term as more and more homes and businesses get connected to the high-speed network.

Gettin’ their digital game on in Asheville

Curious Sense, a Research Triangle start-up that designs digital games, social media, mobile apps, virtual worlds and online communities for both the media and the entertainment industry, has decided to relocate to Asheville.

“We’ve always loved visiting Asheville,” said Adam Blumenthal, the company's CEO & Chief Strategist. Blumenthal notes that he chose Asheville based on our area’s quality of life, rich cultural and creative heritage, and natural beauty. “Earlier this year my wife was inspired to suggest moving our family and business here. After meeting members of the business community and imagining our company in Downtown Asheville, we decided now was the perfect time,” he continued.

His wife, Juditta Musette, is a creative director at the company.

Curious Sense got its start in the summer of 2008 and has grown to eight employees. The firm develops new kinds of online and mobile products for some of the world’s biggest entertainment companies. Their innovative work has been recognized by media outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, NBC, MTV and Billboard.

David Gantt, Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, welcomed the new company to town:

“Asheville is already known for innovation technology development and a creative workforce; we know that Curious Sense will find the environment and talent it needs to succeed,” Gantt said.

Curious Sense will open its doors in October 2010. “We’re very excited about the great creative, tech- and innovation-minded talent of this area,” said Blumenthal. “We’ve already begun to meet some of the affinity groups and organizations where we’ll meet potential team members and collaborators.”

Larchmont Awarded Tax Credits

The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency has awarded federal tax credits to the Larchmont, an affordable apartment development recently approved by the Asheville City Council, according to Cindy Weeks, director of public relations for Mountain Housing Opportunities, the developer behind the project.

“These tax credits will generate almost $7 million in private investment for the construction of 60 affordable, energy-efficient and transit oriented apartments,” she said.

NCHFA also approved additional financing of $1,689,167, according to Weeks. The total amount of private investment and loans being provided through this award is approximately $8.6 million. Only 31 proposals for housing tax credits were funded in North Carolina out of 100 applications statewide.

Weeks also reports that an Asheville family has pledged $20,000 to Mountain Housing for landscaping and the construction of a bus shelter on Merrimon Avenue. The organization will issue a call to local artists and architects this fall for design of the bus shelter, which will be built in advance of the apartments.

Weeks estimates that The Larchmont will employ over 200 workers during its 12-18 month construction period, which is expected to begin by summer 2011.

— Direct your business news to Michael Muller (251-1333, ext. 154) or to business@mountainx.com.

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