It is our fundamental belief that no matter where you choose to live or work, you should be connected to the very best infrastructure available.
– Michael Burrow
President and CEO
In NineStar Connect territory, community is everything; and connectivity has been the key to progress, promise, and opportunity.
NineStar Connect came to life in January 2011 in Hancock County, Indiana, as the product of an historic merger between Hancock Telecom and Central Indiana Power — becoming the second cooperative in the nation to offer both telecom and electricity distribution. From day one, this nonprofit cooperative organization has been completely member-owned and committed to bringing advanced communications and energy capabilities to rural communities, helping drive business and growth for those living in the region.
“It is our fundamental belief that no matter where you choose to live or work, you should be connected to the very best infrastructure available,” said Michael Burrow, president and CEO of NineStar Connect. “We don’t believe if you choose to live or work in rural areas that you should have to sacrifice quality of life.”
Over the past 12 years, NineStar Connect has grown from a roughly $100 million organization to a more than $248 million organization — more than doubling in terms of assets. That growth was possible thanks to a collective commitment to invest in technology that provided rural customers with the same connectivity as residents and companies in larger city centers.
Even with that early growth and innovation on the telecom and electric side, NineStar continues working to bring more development to the East Central Indiana region. In recent years, they’ve taken significant steps to help attract more residential and commercial developers, who previously were focusing more on more densely-populated areas.
“When you’re developing ground in the modern era, you need water and sewer,” Burrow said. “NineStar tried to find a water or sewer company to work with us, and when we couldn’t find one, we took action, engaged some engineers, and changed our mindset. We had to recognize that we are truly a local infrastructure company.”
NineStar was granted authority by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) and on October 1, 2016, the cooperative officially began offering water and wastewater services, in addition to electric and telecom. Today, NineStar provides water service to more than 1,100 members, delivering the same level of service and quality technology available for electric and telecom members.
“With this investment, we’ve picked up members who are now buying three or four services from us, making it more efficient for everyone,” Burrow said. “If you’re getting water, sewer, electric, or even communications from us, you’re served by fiber. Having that fiber network is what allows us to lean in on the concept of smart utilities, better technology, and safer systems.”
“We’ve found many connections, including our relationship with the economic development team at Wabash Valley Power Alliance has helped put our small area on a larger playing field,” said David Spencer, director of marketing and public relations at NineStar Connect. “They have connections and direct communication with site selectors and that relationship has been invaluable to our ability to continue growing this area of Indiana.”
“We’re always looking to make improvements that bolster the quality of life and quality of place for our communities and members of our cooperative,” Burrow said. “Because of WVPA’s efforts, that’s helped give us a seat at the table on some level that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Making improvements means more than attracting new business to the region. It also means finding ways to improve the communities in which NineStar Connect operates.
“Fiber has provided us the ability to deliver very high speed synchronize broadband service, giving members faster internet compared to other providers,” Burrow said. “But we’re also committed to constantly improving our communities, because this is where we live and work, as well.”
“We give our employees an opportunity to give back to their communities and the communities we serve,” Spencer said. “We provide days off for our staff to volunteer with local nonprofits, because we know the ability for our cooperative to grow requires strong partnerships and community engagement.”
Their commitment to community goes beyond volunteer service. NineStar Connect members can also contribute to Operation Round Up®, helping offset costs for other members who need assistance. That program garnered $100,000 in donations in 2022 alone.
“We’ve also taken space in our community that was about to become vacant and repurposed it to become the Idea Co-op,” Spencer said. “This space gives local agritech businesses, high-tech startups, and entrepreneurs access to the largest and fastest broadband network, helping them share ideas and grow their businesses. We’ve already seen several entrepreneurs take root and launch from the Idea Co-op, and they’re hiring local folks, so it all comes full circle.”