NineStar gets $2.3 million from program to help hospital project

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GREENFIELD — Nine- Star Connect will use the $2.3 million in loans and grants it received from a federal program to help Hancock Regional Hospital with its new facility in Mt. Comfort.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program awarded a $2 million loan and $300,000 in grant funds to NineStar Connect, the utility announced in a press release. That sum is the highest awarded through the program, and Nine-Star is the first rural telecommunications cooperative to benefit from the program in more than 10 years, according to the release. The cooperative’s award is more than double the program’s average amount of $900,000.

The Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program provides funding for projects in rural areas through local utility providers. Utility providers receive zero-interest loans that they pass through to local businesses’ projects that promote economic development and create and retain employment.

NineStar Connect plans to pass along its zero-interest funds to Hancock Health to help with building its ambulatory care center with a freestanding urgent care and diagnostic center at Mt. Comfort Road and Interstate 70. The funds will buy medical equipment and supplies along with computer hardware and software for the facility.

“We are grateful to the USDA for this valuable program, which enables NineStar Connect to invest in important projects that promote economic development and create jobs, while meeting the growing health care needs in the region,” NineStar Connect president and CEO Mike Burrow said in the press release.

Hancock Health’s new facility will connect to NineStar Connect’s countywide high-speed fiber network.

The facility is just the beginning for the 140 acres of undeveloped land Hancock Health owns in Mt. Comfort. Phase II calls for the development of commercial, retail and residential properties.

Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health and Hancock Regional Hospital, said in the press release that the funds from the Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program will assist in seeing the endeavor through.

“Funding used in Phase I of the medical facility will help ensure we can begin Phase II,” Long said.

Hancock Health will repay the loan to NineStar Connect, which will return the funds to the USDA by the end of the 10-year term. The grant money will be available to Hancock Health as revolving loan funds and will also be repaid to NineStar Connect. After it’s repaid, that $300,000 grant will remain in the community and NineStar Connect will be able to use it to give to another organization promoting economic development.