In August, Joe Wheeler EMC started connecting its members to FlashFiber, the fiber network that will eventually provide high-speed internet throughout the JWEMC service area.

GE Appliance teamFlashFiber will provide lightning-fast internet service, with no contracts and no data limits. It will transform North Alabama communities for the better, promoting growth and prosperity for years to come, according to key professionals familiar with growth in the region.

Tabitha Pace, president and CEO of the Lawrence County Industrial Development Board, says she believes FlashFiber will be a huge benefit to the area.

FlashFiber is expected to provide a major boost to economic development and to already existing industry.

FlashFiber is expected to provide a major boost to economic development and to already existing industry.

“We have some areas that do not have internet access, and when this is complete all of our county will have access,” Pace says. “Joe Wheeler has made a huge investment, and it really goes back to what the co-op stands for. Our area was actually falling behind. I can’t thank Joe Wheeler enough for their vision and hard work to get this done quickly.”

It isn’t a simple process. Crews have been constructing the fiber backbone for much of this year. To introduce this technology, Joe Wheeler had to build an entirely new network infrastructure — one it expects will be in use for decades.

Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, says this project will be just as essential as other utility services like water and electricity.

“Now, manufacturing facilities communicate back with their company headquarters every day, sharing data back and forth,” Kracke says. “Students — now more than ever, as we learned the past year — are learning remotely and working virtually. They have to have connectability. From a medical standpoint, patients can videoconference with a doctor or nurse practitioner and have an office visit without ever getting in the car.”

Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, says reliable broadband is crucial to growth on several levels.

overhead view of manufacturing facility“Every project that we work throughout the county, the question always comes up about broadband capability and availability,” Nails says. “In today’s business environment, you have to have that infrastructure and that connection to do business. We’re excited about FlashFiber because it’s getting access to underserved communities. This is going to allow them to compete for projects, foster startup companies, or allow people to work from home. It just opens up a lot of opportunities.”

It’s clear that fiber networks and the expansion of broadband is no longer a bonus, but a necessity.

“It’s not one of those things that’s negotiable,” Pace says regarding recruiting companies looking to relocate or expand. “If we don’t have that, then we just get checked off the list and that company moves on to another area.”