Rowan manufacturers hope to hook onto Fibrant

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — In a move that Mayor Karen Alexander says would be “a game-changer,” two relatively recent additions to Rowan County’s business landscape want to become Fibrant customers.

In letters sent to county staff, Agility Fuel Systems and Gildan Yarns both express interest in becoming customers of Fibrant’s internet service. Both businesses are located outside of Salisbury’s city limits. In a memo to commissioners, County Manager Aaron Church says state law requires their approval before Fibrant can be extended to “any government economic development site.”

Meanwhile, Rowan County government has also expressed interest in using Fibrant for internet service. County government would initially use Fibrant as a backup provider until it ensures reliability rises to the level of becoming a primary provider. With more than 700 employees, Rowan County would be a major addition to Fibrant’s stable of subscribers.

When asked about the business extension, Alexander said Agility and Gildan “would definitely be the largest businesses based on the number of employees.”

“The fact that (the companies) are the ones pushing it is very exciting for us,” Alexander said. “They recognize the value, and it’s important for our community and citizens to know how significant having this technology is.”

Both companies have facilities located just south of Salisbury — between I-85 and Granite Quarry. Gildan is a clothing manufacturer. Agility Fuel Systems makes natural gas fuel systems for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles

Fibrant — an internet, phone and TV provider owned and operated by the city of Salisbury — offers internet speeds up to 10 gigabits per second. By comparison, Agility’s North Carolina Operations Director Shawn Adelsberger says, the company currently subscribes to a 20 megabit per second service — significantly slower than Fibrant. In his letter to commissioners, Adelsberger says Fibrant would boost the reliability of Agility’s internet connectivity. The company has seen outages lasting from hours to days, according to his letter.

“Such connectivity will help us to maintain our networked manufacturing equipment, to maintain operation for our global customers and to not have product delivery risk due to network slowdowns and interruptions,” he said.

Gildan’s letter puts the need for an extension in more dire terms.

“We’re potentially exposing ourselves to an unacceptable risk of shutting our facilities down and sending workers home in the event of a data circuit outage,” the letter states. “In fact, this occurred last year, having a negative impact to our business and our employees. Again, in order to mitigate this risk, we would like to leverage the services provided by Fibrant.”

If all that’s required is an OK by county commissioners, Gildan and Agility would be well on their way to reliable internet service after Monday — when commissioners are scheduled to approve an expansion as part of their consent agenda.

“We have some of the largest taxpayers in the county asking for a utility service. Why would we not do it?” county commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said.

When asked about an extension on Wednesday, Commissioner Craig Pierce didn’t express any significant opposition to the idea. Pierce said he hadn’t talked about the matter significantly with other commissioners.

“I’m not saying I’m in favor of Fibrant, but it’s here and let’s make the best of it,” Pierce said. “Let’s go and help some of our local industries as long as it doesn’t come back to cost the county citizens any money.”

There’s been no final cost determined, and it’s unclear how the city of Salisbury would pay for an extension. However, City Manager Lane Bailey said the extension would be “relatively close in terms of return on investment” — the cost to extend the lines wouldn’t significantly differ from revenue received by the businesses.

Bailey said grants would be a likely source to pay for an extension. He said debt would be an unlikely way to pay for an expansion.

Despite the enthusiasm about the extension requests, city officials were hesitant to say that state law allows them to extend Fibrant’s lines specifically to Agility and Gildan. City officials cited a combination of court decisions and actions by the state legislature as potential concerns.

The measure commissioners are scheduled to vote on, however, may avoid legal questions that city officials are investigating.

Commissioners’ proposed motion to approve the extensions states “based on the request from Gildan and Agility Fuel Systems, the Board of Comissioners move to authorize the City of Salisbury to extend service to the Summit Corporate Park and Chamandy Drive.”

The concern among county officials was whether commissioners needed to vote on an extension at all — not if the city of Salisbury was able to extend the lines. The state law pertaining to Fibrant allows an extension into all Rowan municipalities except for Kannapolis. Economic development sites, public safety facilities, governmental facilities and schools located outside municipalities are also allowed extension areas.

Granite Quarry is among the Rowan towns that have pushed for a Fibrant extension into their community, and Mayor Bill Feather noted a number of positives about a proposed extension. Most notably, a Fibrant extension onto Chamandy Drive would add high speed internet to an industrial site that’s scheduled to receive a number of speculative buildings.

If Fibrant is eventually able to expand into other towns, Feather said the Salisbury-owned service would bring additional competition among internet providers and could attract different types of businesses than Granite Quarry currently contains.

Contact Reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.