ELKINS, W.Va. A new $4 million broadband expansion initiative in one of the most underserved areas of the state has been announced. The Woodlands Route 33 Middle/Last Mile Fiber Deployment Project will connect communities in Randolph and Tucker Counties.

The project is partially funded through the Partnerships for Opportunity, Workforce, and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program managed by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and co-chair Gayle Manchin.

“It is about the beauty of our land; people want to come visit here; they want to stay,” Manchin said. “The beauty of the people here is their hospitality, the culture, and the heritage, but they also want the amenities.”

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who has made connecting West Virginia a top priority through the Capito Connect program, offered brief remarks during the event. She acknowledged that reliable broadband is now a requirement to be a connected participant in the digital economy.

“You can’t do tourism development, economic development, education, or health care without good broadband service,” Capito said. “They’re working on a project here that’s really going to connect a lot of people.”

Executive director of Woodlands Development & Lending, David Clark, said when complete government offices, schools, health care facilities, first responders, businesses, and families from Elkins, Harmon, Thomas, and Davis will have reliable broadband, some for the first time. For those who do have broadband in the area, this project will improve their access.

“This is really about a holistic approach to community development; it does take us and all of our partners along the way,” Clark said. “This is about improving our schools, making sure clinics have what they need, fire departments, so the broadband is absolutely critical.”

Manchin said the project is about improving the quality of life and ability to do business across all of Appalachia. She added that these are the types of projects that lift the region to the standard of living in other parts of the country.

“This is not just about Elkins or Randolph County; it’s about how we lift up this region, and that’s what’s important,” Manchin said.

Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco said this is another exciting announcement following the area designation as an Ascend West Virginia community, the renovation of the Tygart Hotel, and a general clean-up happening in downtown. All these improvements and the promise of a completed Corridor H in the future set the stage for economic growth and advancement.

“I do think people see the vision we have and the momentum we have in the area,” Marco said. “Corridor H is going to be key to that; we’re going to be less than three hours from the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas.”