Small Business Spotlight: Northland Communications pursues plans for growth

About Us | By Northland Communications Team

HOLLAND PATENT, N.Y. — Northland Communications may be based in a small town, but the company has an ambitious growth plan that is anything but small town.

The company, which got its start as Oneida County Rural Telephone in 1904, is all about connections
— from the internet and voice solutions it provides to the relationships with its employees and

And Northland President James McCarthy is betting on those connections to help the company grow.

With current revenue of $28 million, McCarthy hopes to double that figure over the next decade. “We
have to grow in a way where not only Northland wins, but our customers and employees do, too,” he

To ensure that happens, Northland has been making key investments, including adding 15 new
employees over the last 18 months. That’s no small feat for a company with an average employee
tenure of about 14 years.

Those new team members joined the business at all levels and bring outside experience and
perspective to Northland. They have brought new ideas that led to some operational improvements,
McCarthy says, and have been fortunate to learn the ropes from seasoned employees.

The investments in the team have resulted in some significant improvements in both the number of
tickets the company has open at any given time and in the response time to those tickets. Both figures
have decreased by about 50 percent, McCarthy says.

That means when tickets do come in for issues, Northland’s employees can take more time to handle
the ticket because they don’t have so many other tickets waiting for them. “We can go deeper and
make sure we resolve it right the first time,” McCarthy says. This change benefits both customers and
employees, he adds.

Most of Northland’s 4,500 customers have been with the company for years. More than 100 have
been with it for 40 or more years. Nearly 500 have been Northland customers for at least 30 years,
and just over 1,000 have been with the company for 20 years.

“Those customers have had choice for as long as they’ve been with us,” McCarthy notes. It’s his job to
make sure they continue choosing Northland.

With just over 1,000 small telephone companies like Northland left in the U.S., it can be hard for the
little guys to compete with telecommunication giants. Northland competes by sticking to its core
business and providing quality service, McCarthy says.

“We’re not trying to be everything to everyone,” he says. “We feel as a result of being local, we can
provide better service.”

Northland owns and operates 1,169 miles of fiber-optic cable, a number that is expanding, and is able
to control service from end to end because of that, he says. In a time when traditional telephone
companies have lost about 50 percent of their customers as more people switch from landlines to cell
phones, Northland’s parent company, Oneida County Rural Telephone, has converted about 50
percent of its original lines to fiber, allowing it to maintain customers for internet service.

“I think we have opportunity on our existing fiber-optic network to gain more market share,”
McCarthy says.

Some growth will come as Northland adds 60 miles of fiber in rural Herkimer, Fulton, and
Montgomery counties under a National Telecommunications and Information Administration Middle
Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program to bring broadband internet to underserved areas.

McCarthy’s also planning on growth from Northland’s new hosted voice product, which the company
can sell off its own network. The company hired is working on creating a channel network partnering
with IT vendors in order to sell the product.

The hosted voice product brings a complete phone service to customers without the expense of buying
a traditional phone system, McCarthy explains. It provides all the function without the equipment and
allows customers to pay “by the seat” for what they need. Northland has already installed the product
for 800 seats for one customer and is in the process of another install of around 300 seats.

Finally, McCarthy expects Northland’s contact center application, which gives more functionality for
clients to interface with customers through a variety of channels, to spur growth.

“Our growth strategy is around our customer-experience strategy,” McCarthy says. And that goes back
to the employee experience.

“It’s more than just being nice to your employees,” he says. “We have to put them in a position to be

Company: Northland Communications
President: James McCarthy
Locations: 9560 Main St., Holland Patent | 1 Dupli Park Drive, Syracuse
Revenue: $28 million
Employees: 125