Bob Hance, president and CEO of Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC), was recognized this week as the recipient of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) President’s Award. The award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life in rural America.

Hance, who has spent his entire 45-year career in the rural electric cooperative industry, was selected for this year’s award because of his efforts to bridge the digital divide as a tireless advocate for rural broadband. Under his leadership, MEC successfully deployed a high-speed fiber communications project across its southwest Michigan service territory and now has nearly 10,000 data and voice subscribers. Construction in the southeast Michigan territory begins in 2020.

Frequently tapped to offer testimony or as a subject matter expert on rural fiber internet deployment, Hance is a known face and voice among federal, regional and state policymakers related to funding and other barriers to rural broadband. His efforts resulted in an award of more than $5 million in the 2018 Connect America Fund auction to support additional construction in unserved and underserved areas in and around MEC’s electric service territory.

“Bob has been a change agent,” said NRECA board President Phil Carson. “Through his advocacy efforts and sheer willpower, he has helped bring rural broadband and the needs of rural communities to the fore.”

The award was presented on Wednesday at NRECA’s Annual Meeting in Orlando. More than 6,000 representatives from electric co-ops across the nation attended the meeting, which sets the organization’s legislative and organizational agenda for the next year.

“Our vision at MEC is to create vibrant, relevant, sustainable rural communities, and those aren’t just words on a wall somewhere. It’s a commitment I live and breathe each and every day, and it’s what motivates me to keep doing more — for our customers and more for the communities we serve,” Hance said.