Open-access fiber optic network continues to help regional economy grow

MBC's 10th Anniversary logoMid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), a successful wholesale fiber-optic open-access network transport provider, is celebrating their 10 year anniversary today.  Many things have changed over the last ten years, but MBC has remained steadfast in working to fulfill its core mission areas of promoting economic development, lessening the burdens of government, bridging the digital divide, and reinvesting in our communities.

The initial investment in 2004 from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission funded the build out of the first 800 miles of fiber throughout Southern Virginia, connecting every single industrial, business and technology park in the region.  MBC recently completed three Federal grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which included the construction of over 700 additional miles of fiber to the original network.  Those projects included extending open-access fiber to all K-12 schools in Southern Virginia, extending the fiber backbone west to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and extending network builds to southeast Virginia/Hampton Roads market in partnership with Old Dominion University.  Today, MBC maintains a regional fiber network of 1600+ route miles with over 300 buildings and 70 towers on-net, including direct connectivity to the largest Internet peering hubs in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region.

As MBC’s network has grown, so has the MBC team.  Mid-Atlantic Broadband now has fifteen full-time employees dedicated to managing the $100 million organization. Since its inception in 2004, MBC has directly enabled the creation of over 900 full-time jobs and attracted over $1.3 Billion in private sector investments from companies expanding their presence in rural Southern Virginia.  MBC recently opened an office in Silicon Valley, California to promote Southern Virginia and enhance our economic development recruitment efforts for companies looking to expand to cost effective east coast markets.

BOB BROWN/Associated Press - Red Oak Stew Crew member Billy Waller, left, watches Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell wield the paddle at last year’s Brunswick Stew Day in Richmond.When I arrive around 8:30 a.m. on a brilliant blue winter day in the south-central Virginia town of Alberta (population about 300) to suss out the mysteries of Brunswick stew, I find four guys standing around an 85-gallon cast-iron stew pot, steam rising from its contents of chicken and water, the stew's first stage.

"What time did you start?" I ask.

The crew leader, George Daniel, a mustachioed, white-haired 73-year-old auctioneer in a faded zip-up jumpsuit, takes the opportunity to school me in the long, involved process. "Started yesterday," he says.

"Yesterday?" I ask, confused.

"Billy here was cuttin' potatoes and onions."

That would be Billy Waller, 76, retired from the Virginia Department of Transportation. A solidly built man in a red gimme cap, blue button-down and jeans, Waller is using a long-handled paddle to stir 160 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken thighs in 18 gallons of well water, turning the liquid at the bottom of the pot milky. "We cut a few," he says dryly.

Daniel and Waller are sort of the Lennon and McCartney of Virginia Brunswick stew. The two have cooked together for so many years, they've lost count. They agree that I can say "over 20." Their team, the Red Oak Stew Crew, has won first place in the Brunswick stew competition at the annual A Taste of Brunswick festival in October so often that they've lost count of that number, too.

Their victories have earned them repeated trips to the state capital in Richmond to cook the concoction on the fourth Wednesday in January, a.k.a. Brunswick Stew Day. Virginia's General Assembly approved the designation in 2002. It followed a 1988 resolution proclaiming Brunswick County "The Original Home of Brunswick Stew," a rebuke to the town of Brunswick, Ga., whose state legislature has also issued a proclamation claiming the stew was developed there.

Natalie Slate presents on the efforts of the Business Recruitment and Retention Committee during the recent Virginia’s Growth Alliance community event held at Rosemont Winery.A national program that’s spurred leaders and stakeholders in communities throughout Southside Virginia to band together and create partnerships is bearing fruit.

Virginia’s Growth Alliance, a regional economic development organization that includes six counties (Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Greensville, Charlotte and Nottoway) and one city (Emporia), held a community event in December at Rosemont Vineyards and Winery to introduce its new executive director and talk about the Stronger Economies Together (SET) strategic plan leaders from across the region have developed.

Virginia’s Growth Alliance Vice Chair and Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge welcomed attendees and introduced Jeff Reed as the organization’s second executive director.

Woolridge said Reed started on Oct. 1 with 20 years of economic development and marketing experience at localities including Danville and Halifax County.

“I keep saying, I’m learning Southside in 30-mile increments,” said Reed. “From Danville to South Boston, and now I’m actually living in Clarksville and have the entire region from Mecklenburg to Greensville and from the Prince Edward County line to the state line. I’m just thrilled to be here and working with all these wonderful people and all the exciting things that are going on.”

Scott Tate, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent who facilitated many of the strategic planning workshops for Virginia’s Growth Alliance, said Stronger Economies Together is a national program organized and funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A large crowd from across the region was on hand to hear the update of the Stronger Economies Together (SET) project being coordinated by Virginia's Growth Alliance (VGA).

Download the plan - 92.68mb pdf

Strengthening Economies Together plan

Four members of VGA are chairing committees that are working to:

  • Attract targeted industries to the region and expand/retain existing regional industries
  • Create an atmosphere that will cultivate, support, and expand small business development
  • Develop a workforce with 21st Century Competencies for our current and future employers
  • Increase awareness of tourism and quality of life aspects of the region through promotion, education and connectivity while maintaining authenticity

Natalie Slate, Greensville County, reported that her committee is focused on the following objectives:

  • Aggressively Market to Target Industries
  • Market to Supply Chain Industries
  • Target Industry Ready Product – Sites and Buildings
  • Train Workers in Target Industry Occupations
  • Favorable cost of doing business
  • Active existing business and industry programs
  • Increase regional collaboration

Jan Harrell, City of Emporia, reported that her committee is focused on the following objectives:

  • Provide Counseling, Mentoring, Training and Education
  • Create an "Entrepreneurial Blueprint" of services
  • Provide a Range Business Finance Options

Angie Kellett, Mecklenburg County, reported that her committee is focused on the following objectives:

  • Expand Educational/Training Curricula
  • Develop Specialized Training
  • Market Training to Parents/Citizens
  • Improve "Rapid Response Team"
  • Communicate Training Needs to Providers

Beverley Hawthorne, Lunenburg County, reported that her committee is focused on the following objectives:

  • Educate Residents on Regional Assets
  • Market Tourism Assets
  • Develop ROI "Markers"
  • Develop Small Towns
  • Develop Tourism "Product"

VGA is partnering with USDA-Rural Development, VA Tech, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and Virginia Tourism in the development and implementation of the SET plan. Citizens from all six of the VGA counties and the City of Emporia have participated in the process over the past seven months. VGA presented a "draft" copy of the regional strategic plan. The team emphasized that the document should be considered a living document and revisited and updated often.

The individual committees will continue to meet and move forward with implementation of the goals and objectives.

Seven localities receive Community Improvement Grants for housing rehabilitation and downtown revitalization projects

RICHMOND - Governor Bob McDonnell announced $1.85 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for 3 projects in Virginia's Growth Alliance.

"The Community Development Block Grant program provides funding for localities to address numerous issues," said Governor McDonnell. "These projects focus on improving the lives of thousands of Virginians and utilizing all available resources to better our communities throughout Virginia."

Since 1982, the federally-funded CDBG program has been administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and Virginia receives approximately $17 million annually for this grant program. CDBG grants are awarded through a competitive process. Most projects benefit low- and moderate-income persons, and many projects are targeted for the prevention or elimination of slums and blighting conditions.

During this year's competitive cycle, 35 proposals were submitted by 34 localities, and 11 projects received the initial funding. The Community Development Block Grant Program specifies that funding which has not been obligated or which has been returned from closed projects or cost under-runs by December is to be committed to proposals which did not initially receive funding in that year.

"Through the CDBG program, Virginia addresses issues including housing, economic development, health, safety and more to create great communities to live, work and do business," said DHCD Director Bill Shelton.

2013 CDBG Community Improvement Grant Awards in Virginia's Growth Alliance:


Project Name

CDBG Award

City of Emporia

Belfield Business District Revitalization Project

$ 719,596

Town of Blackstone

Church Street Project - Phase II
Multi-Year Funding

$ 600,000

Town of Chase City

Washington Street Housing Improvement Project
Multi-Year Funding

$ 535,132

Total Recommended


Provides Technical Assistance for Rural Regional Development

USDA Rural Development, in conjunction with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Association of Counties, and other state and local partners, selected VGA and Northern Neck Chesapeake Bay Region Partnership from eleven other regional teams to be included in a program called "Stronger Economies Together" (SET).

The SET program helped the regional communities develop new approaches to strengthen and enhance regional economic development activities. A variety of participants representing private and public sectors and local citizens from the multi county region received the latest tools, training, and technical assistance to help the region move forward and take advantage of positive growth and quality of life opportunities. The seven month strategic planning training resulted in the creation of an economic development plan reflecting the critical drivers of the region and identifying emerging growth sectors and regional competitive advantages. For complete details and highlights of the process visit

The goals and strategies will be presented on December 5. Upon final adoption, the plan will be posted on VGA's website.