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Digital 395 Project focusing on jobs

February 28, 2012

Jose Rico of Big Pine participated in one of two flagging training workshops held Feb. 18 to train residents in the type of work that will need to be done to complete Digital 395. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Glazner

Hundreds of new, full-time jobs are in the process of being added to the Eastern Sierra workforce as progress continues on the Digital 395 broadband project.
Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly referred to as the Stimulus Act, the project involves building a fiber-optic backbone along a 583-mile stretch of U.S. 395 through the Eastern Sierra.
By the time project leaders break ground this spring, they estimate they will have hired close to 300 laborers, professionals and tradesmen from local communities along the U.S. 395 corridor.
Since beginning the project in 2010, Praxis Associates, the company implementing the project on behalf of the California Broadband Cooperative, has vowed to utilize the local workforce by hiring local contractors and vendors to complete the job.
Elizabeth Glazner, communications director for the California Broadband Cooperative and Praxis, said the company and CBC are still hiring contractors at this point.
The jobs that are being created include laborers, heavy equipment operators and truck drivers, materials handlers, clerical and administrative support personnel, construction managers and jobs related to environmental monitoring of culturally and biologically sensitive areas along the route.
“Of the full-time employee positions hired thus far,” Praxis said via press release, “about 40 percent are local hires from the Eastern Sierra region of California and Nevada, including Reno, Carson City, Mammoth, Bishop and Big Pine. These positions are in engineering, project management and business development.”
According to Rick Johnson, chief administrative officer for Praxis, the company expects to directly employ approximately 40 operatives during the cable placing, splicing and provisioning stages of construction. Of these, approximately 30 will be new hires from the U.S. 395 corridor, Johnson said.
In an effort to train residents in the type of skills that will be needed for the Digital 395 project, the Tribal Employments Rights Office recently hosted two flagging (traffic control) training workshops in Bishop.
The training prepared attendees for certification as flaggers for various construction operations.
“Primarily (the participants) wanted to be ready when the Digital 395 project comes through here,” said Susie West, interim Tribal Employment Rights Office manager.
By the time the construction phase is in full swing, Praxis will have created about100 jobs equally divided between professional and construction labor positions. Praxis expects to create about 150 more jobs through its contractors and professional services firms.
That’s good news for Inyo County, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, has an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent (it was 9.2 in December).
In addition, through its purchases of approximately $30 million in materials, vehicles and equipment, the Digital 395 project has indirectly created approximately 300 to 400 additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, Johnson said.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to be part of President Obama’s stimulus program,” said Johnson. “Two hundred fifty well-paid jobs will have a tangible impact on these employees’ families, on the companies from whom they will purchase goods and services, on those companies’ employees and their families, and so on. The fact that this work is concentrated along the U.S. Highway 395 corridor of the Eastern Sierra will no doubt produce visible economic results there as well, not to mention the ultimate value of the network in itself.”
Glazner said Praxis is currently working through the lengthy permitting process to dig trenches and lay fiber optic cables along U.S. 395 on property managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Glazner said there were more than 20 agencies involved in the environmental work and permitting process.
Once that is completed, Praxis hopes to break ground. Glazner said physical work on the construction of the network will begin in mid-April.
The Digital 395 network will provide high-speed broadband services to residents of the Eastern Sierra who have not had access to the technology previously.
The project began in 2009 with the formation of the California Broadband Cooperative, Inc., a non-profit California Consumer Cooperative Corporation that applied for and was awarded grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
In August 2010, the cooperative was awarded the grant, and brought Praxis on board to physically build the information pipeline in the Sierra.
The cooperative is under the direction of a board of directors representing key institutions and constituents in the Eastern Sierra.
Contractors and vendors in the Eastern Sierra who are interested in getting on board with the project can visit digital395.com for details.

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