Eclipse Communications Steps Up to Rural Internet and Communications Challenges
BENZONIA TOWNSHIP, MICHGAN – A grade schooler needs to complete homework or go to school in a virtual world but does not have internet at home. A business needs high speed, reliable internet to sell what it makes. An individual devastated by COVID-19 needs internet to try to make money. Families, neighbors and friends struggle with inconsistent internet while trying to stay connected through a pandemic that has put millions in isolation.
These are just some of the challenges for Chris Varenhorst, a Benzie County resident and Owner/President of Eclipse Communications, a high speed broadband internet provider, who just completed his second round of financing with the nonprofit Venture North that provides capital and technical help to small businesses in a ten county northwest Michigan region.
“These are dynamic times to live in a rural region in the midst of a pandemic and see how the lack of resources and infrastructure has exacerbated challenges faced by all elements of the population,” says Varenhorst. “Whether it be people reliant on internet to telecommute or teachers and kids needing to sustain K-12 education or simply preserving the ability of people to talk to one another, the gaps in internet capacity have left a lot of people and communities behind.”
Varenhorst notes that the gaps in service are all too often a reflection of decisions that tend to place more emphasis on urban areas. “We need to do a better job in Michigan and elsewhere in achieving a better balance between the haves and have nots,” he said. “Rural areas have been long left behind, skipped over and underserved and devoid of sufficient investment in infrastructure. We hope to be a part of the solution in turning that around. After all, more and more people want to work while enjoying Lake Michigan, our cold water streams or the warmth of our small communities. The need for uninterrupted high speed internet will do nothing but grow.”
“Eclipse Communications is a perfect example of a business we want to help with growth financing,” says Laura Galbraith, President of Venture North. “Our first question is what will this business do to benefit the community? In this case, the growth of Eclipse can have an immense impact on the quality of life and economic well being of Benzie County as well as surrounding counties. And they bring wonderfully supportive and genuine values to their business and the customers they serve. We want to grow as they grow and we can bring more resources to the table if needed. Benzie County is a focus for us because there are great things happening that bode well for some of their areas that have economic challenges. Because we are a certified Community Development Financial Institution, Eclipse Communications is the kind of company that we need to hold up as an exemplar while providing help they and our communities need.”
Galbraith points out that the internet technologies, skills and abilities of Varenhorst and his team are on the cutting edge. “They are trailblazers and true entrepreneurs with a deep commitment to their communities,” Galbraith says. “They are widely respected for their technology, practical problem solving and old-fashioned customer service, the ingredients for success. They continue to build both their client base and create more jobs. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
“While we will expand into surrounding areas, Benzie County will always be our home base,” said Varenhorst. “We continue to find skilled people here with outstanding work ethic and a desire to learn. Our clients are our friends and neighbors. Hundreds of people have my phone number and, while our first obligations are family, our team is always accessible to respond to the needs and questions of our customers. Service is everything.”
Tinged with emotion, Varenhorst also talks about what his Benzie neighbors have meant to him and the business. “How does one begin to thank people like Bob Boylan of Xpert Fulfillment, Frankfort City Manager Josh Mills or Rick Schmidt at Storm Cloud? They have mentored, encouraged and tested our services. It’s a joy to be in a community where others share in the success of the whole. It rises us all up to greater heights. I think it is a condition that is distinctly rural and needs to be preserved and encouraged. At the same time we build a business, so too are we building community.”
Venture North Funding and Development provides commercial financing and technical assistance to support business growth and job creation in their ten county region, often in partnership with other financial institutions. As a Certified Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Venture North also focuses on providing support for underserved populations such as minority, women and veteran owned businesses in low-income communities.