SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — Doug Boone views access to high-speed internet as an important economic development tool, which is why over the last decade his company has invested $100 million into the service.
“In the mid-2000s, it really became apparent that this was going to become a broadband world and broadband became the driver and what we felt was an economic development tool for all of these communities, for all of Northwest Iowa — for the U.S., technically — and it still is today,” he said.
Boone is the CEO of Premier Communications, a Sioux Center-based telecommunications company that services 22 primarily rural communities throughout Northwest Iowa.
Founded in 1906 as the Mutual Telephone Co. of Sioux Center, the company’s original purpose was to establish a phone system in the agrarian Sioux County community to allow residents use of the then-new communications technology.
Landline telephones remained Premier’s primary focus until it began offering cable TV services in 1982. For the most part, Premier conducted business primarily in and around Sioux Center, but in the mid-1990s the company started to expand by purchasing cable providers in the nearby towns of Doon, Hull and Rock Valley.
That initial transaction and heavy investment in its fiber-optic network set off a wave of acquisitions over the last 20 years that has allowed Premier to enter markets all over Northwest Iowa. Its most recent purchase occurred last May.
In 2016, Premier partnered with Winnebago Cooperative Telephone Association of Lake Mills, Iowa, on a $22.5 million cash purchase of Illinois-based Consolidated Communications’ exchanges in Iowa.
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Under terms of the agreement, Premier gained control of Consolidated’s business interests in Akron, Boyden, Doon, Hawarden, Hull, Ireton, Rock Rapids, Rock Valley and Sibley, and Winnebago Cooperative took ownership of the Illinois firm’s operations in Bancroft and Lakota. Those 11 locations brought in $7 million in revenues for Consolidated Communications in its 2015 fiscal year.
Starting in Sibley, Premier plans to spend about $25 million over the next few years improving the fiber-optic network in its recently acquired territories to bring similar speed and services that previously existing customers were privy to.
Boone said that deal alone grew Premier’s business by a third, which follows the company’s steady pattern of growth over the last 15 years. In 2002, Premier had 25 employees and 3,500 customers, and it now employs 77 people and provides service to 16,000 people.
In 2002, Premier had 25 employees and 3,500 customers; it now employs 77 people and provides service to 16,000 people.
“Our revenues have grown and we believe we just provide a tremendous value for our customers and the communities we serve,” Boone said.
Whenever Premier enters a new community, Boone said they look for areas where they can make the biggest impact first. The telecom often reaches out to schools and city officials to help improve internet speed and connectivity as well as information technology services.
The CEO also thinks his company, which can offer download speeds of up to 1 gigabyte in some areas, provides a much-needed service to the rural region’s business sector.
“Because of its ag base, because of manufacturing and the diversification of the economic climate in Northwest Iowa, we really feel that we provide that hidden infrastructure — what’s underground — that really allows businesses and customers to find ways to be successful,” he said.
“We think having high-quality services, redundant services, great customer service and products, good products, that have been served well (has helped us) and the communities have responded well," he continued.