RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — US LEC is continuing its aggressive growth strategy, adding Charlottesville, VA and Columbia, SC to its network coverage.

While the telecommunications industry continues to struggle overall, US LEC now serves 75 markets in 14 states from New York and Philadelphia to Miami to New Orleans with more than 13,000 business customers.

The Charlotte-based firm recently launched an aggressive marketing campaign as well with billboards and commercials. Wall Street likes what it sees. US LEC (Nasdaq: CLEC) is up over $5 a share after selling as low as $1.49 in recent months.

But the growth into Charlottesville and Columbia is not just based on wishful thinking or perceived opportunity. The company says it is responding to requests from potential customers as well as demands from existing clients that want additional services.

“US LEC will continue to take steps to attract our target customer base,” Aaron Cowell, chief executive officer of the communications company, tells Local Tech Wire. “We look for economically-wise ways to provide the services business customers need, and to operate in the areas where they need us.”

Cowell cites a number of factors in the decision to broaden its network.

“Charlottesville was an attractive market because a number of our customers have offices there,” he explains. But there are other reasons. Cowell also likes the potential for future growth.

“Forbes and the Milken Institute have ranked Charlottesville as the 12th Best Small Place for Business and Career in the United States,” he says. “The ranking was based on growth in jobs and earned income in the Charlottesville area, plus a measure of activity in critical technologies that foster future growth.”

The rolling out of additional services in Columbia is based on growing demand, Cowell says. “US LEC has been providing very limited services in Columbia for about 3 years now. Our success there has led us to increase our offering in the market.”

The US LEC network offers customers a growing array of services, and the demand for data connections is especially strong. Since US LEC can bundle multiple services with one bill and one provider, Cowell says the company gives customers convenience as well as reliable connectivity. US LEC also offers managed firewall and virtual private network services.

“Data sales are up and bundling is the hot trend,” he explains. “You can’t beat being able to put everything (Voice, data and Internet) all on one T-1 pipe.” T-1 refers to the dedicated high-speed circuit that provides 24 channels of voice and data connectivity.

The driving force for converged services is coming from businesses, he adds.

“It’s being driven by customers who want to get all their services from one carrier,” Cowell explains. “US LEC specializes in providing these complete packages.”

So far this year US LEC has increased its customer base by more than 22 percent. That total includes some 2,000 businesses in the Carolinas.

That growth has helped drive its stock price to as high as $5.80 in recent months. US LEC closed at $5.24 on Wednesday, up a penny. Its 52-week low is $1.49.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.