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By Phil D’Amico, director of business growth, The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County
Mary Jan Hedman is the executive director of St. Joe Valley Metronet, a position she has held for three years. Mary Jan spent more than 17 years with the software division of the accounting firm formerly known as Crowe Chizek (now Crowe Horwath LLP).
She later directed the international product management group for Moody’s KMV and was hired by Project Future to direct activities relating to Metronet, including marketing, community awareness, branding and developing the Metronet as a major economic development element for the entire region.
|Mary Jan Hedman, executive director, St. Joe Valley Metronet|
Q: We hear a lot about Metronet in our community. What is it?
A: St. Joe Valley Metronet is 50-plus miles of dark fiber — in other words, unused fiber optic cable — providing unlimited bandwidth for faster speeds of information transfer at a lower cost. Subscribers enjoy greater control and flexibility with choices of technological services and vendors. It really is the leasing of dark fiber optic cable to a range of customers.
Q: When did Metronet start, and what was the reason behind starting it?
A: The concept and planning for Metronet began in 2001, and the first connections were made in 2005. As City officials point out, South Bend was the first U.S. city to install this fiber in underground traffic conduit. Really, the intent was to have an economic development tool that would help differentiate our region from a technology standpoint. We as a region knew we needed a major upgrade from basic connectivity in order to transition to the new economy. Metronet is a key element to make that happen. We are now able to provide the quickest form of connectivity at lower costs. This really promotes our community when you talk about the wide range of technological services that can be provided.
Q: So really, who are your customers, users and consumers?
A: Well it’s any community business, IT service providers, government agencies and any organization that needs to deliver more services electronically, faster, cheaper and with greater amounts of information. It’s also the organizations that need to improve operational efficiency in how they transfer and store data and implement business continuity plans. Obviously, hospitals, universities, accounting firms and our larger businesses are our main users.
Q: Where do you see the next stages of growth with Metronet?
A: Probably we will see major growth in the shared circuit subscribers, small and mid-sized businesses. The Metronet model can fit small and large organizations. We have experienced high growth and expect that to continue as more and more organizations subscribe.
Q: You have mentioned data a great deal during our conversation. Is Metronet a valuable asset in terms of, say, data center recruitment?
A: Yes, absolutely. Data centers are very reliant on high speed, reliable connectivity. The ability to move a lot of data faster with constant uptime makes Metronet a key element in recruiting data centers to our community.
You know, the other element we have not addressed is the issue of security. That, too, is a huge part of data centers’ importance. Metronet is a secure line, which is extremely critical when you speak of the sensitive information that is transferred in and out of data centers. This is a very important factor. Also, there is limited to no downtime with Metronet, which again is a key component.
Q: How do the University of Notre Dame, Innovation Park at Notre Dame, Ignition Park and research and technology relate to Metronet?
A: That is a great question and point. Metronet is a necessary tool for developing all of the innovative advancements happening in our region. Ignition Park is a huge focus, especially with the announcement of Data Realty, a newly designed data storage business model moving into the park. If we want to become one of the research and development hubs in the United States, we have to have tools that set us up to be technologically advanced. Having Metronet — a dark fiber optic network — and connectivity options that are second to none really elevates our community from many others.
Q: So I think this begs the question: Do we still have a competitive advantage over other communities?
A: We do, but that gap is closing. I think many communities are figuring out that they need things in their region that will help the way information is transferred, by speed or volume or connectivity. We need to find new ways to grow our market, expand our reach and continue to market this as an economic development tool.
Q: So what is next for Metronet?
A: Well, we expanded into Mishawaka in 2008, and we are looking at Elkhart and other surrounding cities to connect to. You could run dark fiber along any major thoroughfare or rail. We need to continue to look for new and more ways to grow. Branding is also a focus point. That is one of the reasons we have started the new branding called Metronet Zing.
Q: Sounds like the future is bright and well lit … no pun intended!
A: Very good … I like that. We are very excited by the opportunities and possibilities. I think the thing we should remember is that Metronet is an economic development tool that truly distinguishes our area from a technology standpoint.