Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Technology scholarship pays tribute to Midwest Energy

10/31/2019 - 2pm

NRTC, a member-owned technology cooperative based in Herndon, Va., recently endowed a Southwestern Michigan College technology scholarship in honor of Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC), Decatur Road, Cassopolis.

The Midwest Energy and Communications Technology Scholarship will be presented annually beginning in the fall of 2021 to an MEC customer studying telecommunications, engineering, computer science or another technology-related field at SMC.

“We are very thankful to our community partner, Midwest Energy and Communications, for their generous support of our technology students at Southwestern Michigan College,” Dean of the School of Business and Advanced Technology Dr. Stacy Young said. “Midwest has been a great partner for SMC, hiring many of our students when they complete their degrees.

“Supporting students at the beginning of their programs is just another wonderful contribution to our students’ lives and future careers. Many of our students could not attend college without financial support, therefore this is an incredibly generous gift, literally helping generations of students in the future,” Young said.

NRTC announced the scholarship to celebrate the successful completion of MEC’s five-year southwest Michigan fiber deployment which soft-launched in Edwardsburg in 2014 and connected more than 10,000 rural homes and businesses.

MEC in November 2016 in Las Vegas won an innovation award for leadership bringing high-speed internet to unserved/underserved rural areas with its fiber communication system across its electric distribution grid. As President/CEO Robert Hance said, “In the 1930s, electric cooperatives were organized to bring power and light to the rural space when incumbent utilities wouldn’t. Fast forward nearly 80 years and we have a similar inequity with internet access. We’re actively bridging the digital divide with fiber internet.

“High-speed internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Hance said. “This is a game-changer for rural America. We are ensuring rural residents have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts, including options like telecommuting, online education and entertainment, home security and telemedicine services.”

NRTC, founded in 1986, is a key partner behind MEC’s fiber internet project, providing critical support with engineering, construction and materials management, systems development and business planning.
“MEC has emerged as a national leader and pioneer in rural broadband, successfully living out its mission of delivering first-in-class solutions where others won’t,” said Greg Santoro, NRTC Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. “We’re honored for the trust they placed in NRTC to be part of this important endeavor and thrilled to recognize their efforts with this scholarship.”

MEC, with more than 40,000 customers in 15 southern Michigan counties and in northern Indiana and Ohio, serves SMC for both electricity and fiber internet.

Once known as Fruit Belt Electric on M-60, a 1998 merger with Southeastern Energy created Midwest Energy Cooperative. MEC was rebranded in 2017 to add “Communications” to reflect the addition of 11,000 telecommunications customers from this new line of business. Adding about 30 positions also meant building its new, roomier home to accommodate 135 employees and future growth.

“We expect our internet side to eventually become bigger than our energy side,” said Patty Nowlin, MEC Corporate Communications Vice President. “We want to create vibrant, sustainable rural communities and to make sure geography does not define someone’s opportunity.”

With the southwest Michigan electric service territory built, attention turns to southeast Michigan through 2021.

From left: Chris Martin, NRTC Vice President of Member and Industry Relations; Bob Hance, MEC President/CEO; Greg Santoro, NRTC Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer; and Eric Freesmeier, Broadband Development Solutions President/CEO.