With Growth Comes Infrastructure Investment Demand in Central Oregon
In spite of the many challenges of the current year, this remains a great time to live, work and play in Central Oregon. That’s been the case for some time, and word has gotten out. In fact, Deschutes County is the sixth fastest-growing county in the nation, and it’s projected to be home to 262,960 people by 2050, substantially up from 176,635 in 2016.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis in 2016, the Bend-Redmond metropolitan area had one of the highest rates of economic growth in the nation. Local gross domestic product (a comprehensive measure of economic output) grew by 8.1%, among the highest in the nation. The Bend-Redmond metropolitan area also leads Oregon in job gains with a 6% growth rate. Taken together, the challenges of maintaining prosperity and preserving our cherished environment are significant.
With growth come challenges, especially as it relates to infrastructure. While most of us have heard it before, it’s undeniable that building first-rate infrastructure is essential to realizing the full potential of communities and their economies. It’s no wonder then, that organizations like the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) and Economic Development Central Oregon (EDCO) have identified immediate short-term infrastructure demand in the areas of transportation, clean energy, water management, and bridging the digital divide with high-speed connectivity to access cloud-based applications, data centers and high-speed internet.
It’s also true that the sheer scale of the infrastructure challenge is so enormous that the only possible way to meet it is to find a much bigger role for the private sector. Finding the right infrastructure investment partner, one that shares the values and vision of the communities and governments they serve will be a key factor in meeting, not just economic opportunity, but also the broad needs of society.
Innovative Partnerships Emerge
In Oregon, and specifically in Central Oregon, two forward-looking infrastructure partners have joined forces. The first of those companies, Oregon-based LS Networks, originally formed by a collective of Oregon rural electric cooperatives, has been providing high-capacity fiber optic connectivity to enterprise and business customers in the Pacific Northwest for over 15 years. The other is Toronto-based InstarAGF, an independent infrastructure investment firm with a North American portfolio that includes digital, energy, utilities, aviation and civil infrastructure, in addition to complex logistics.
Alignment of Investment Focus and Regional Need
LS Networks has built and operates one of the largest privately-owned fiber networks in the region. Originally designed for the most demanding customers, clients include telecom carriers, ISPs, data centers, governments, schools, healthcare organizations and businesses. With the addition of CEO Byron Cantrall in late 2018 and an experienced management team, the company is focusing on strategic expansion and growth to enable it to serve more of the market. LS Networks’ fiber network expansion extends throughout Oregon and Washington, with particular emphasis in rural areas and underserved markets, where access to broadband is uneven, and without network expansion, can be a very real source of present and future economic disadvantage. To this end, LS Networks is a participant in the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” in which service terminations are suspended, and late fees are waived for any residential or small-business customers due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like LS Networks, InstarAGF already has a presence in the Pacific Northwest with Leading Edge Jet Center, a provider of fueling and business aviation services at both the Redmond and Bend airports in Central Oregon. Leading Edge Jet Center is growing under InstarAGF’s ownership, recently expanding its footprint to the Boeing Field and King County International Airport in Seattle through the acquisition of Kenmore Aero Services, providing a wide range of support services for general aviation customers.
InstarAGF’s current and targeted investment portfolio singles out the same core infrastructure needs identified by local and regional planners in Central Oregon. This is a prime example of a forward-looking company whose values are in alignment with the goals and aspirations of the communities in which they invest. To paraphrase InstarAGF, “Our portfolio focuses on infrastructure that connects communities, with emphasis on collaboration with governments, businesses and other stakeholders where we invest.”
In mid-October, InstarAGF agreed to acquire 100% of LS Networks from the current shareholders. LS Networks will continue to operate with its previous focus, with no impact to its customers, employees or management, while benefitting from InstarAGF’s financing and resources. With InstarAGF’s partnership, LS Networks will now be able to accelerate its network expansion into even more areas.
InstarAGF’s partnership with LS Networks represents an important precedent for private infrastructure investment in Central Oregon. In particular, it furthers the priorities of businesses and residents of Central Oregon: continued prosperity and retaining quality of life while protecting Oregon’s natural environment. Of course, this private sector partnership is a small, but meaningful, step towards addressing Central Oregon’s projected infrastructure needs. When complete, this acquisition will bring the knowledge and support of an international organization to provide greater fiber connectivity and support the growing needs of not only Central Oregon, but the entire Pacific Northwest.