Mountain View, Wyoming
Union Telephone Company got its start in a tiny town in southwestern Wyoming in 1914, when founder John D. Woody built a telephone by hand, fashioning a connector plug out of two slightly different caliber rifle shells.
Since then, the company has come a long way, evolving from a small-town local phone carrier to a regional wireless and broadband services provider. Now known as Union Wireless, the company is still run by the Woody family. John D.’s son Howard, the company’s president, still comes into the office every afternoon, at the age of 94.
Serving customers across Wyoming and neighboring states, Union now has 4,000 wireline phone customers—and ten times as many wireless customers, covering more than 120,000 square miles and serviced by over 400 cell towers.
Eric Woody, John D.’s great-grandson and Union’s chief technical and operations officer, said the move into wireless and broadband was critical not only for the company’s growth but to meet the needs of the communities it serves. “Rural America depends on reliable communications service to keep it connected to the rest of the world, even more than urban communities do,” he says.
Woody likens the maintenance of network infrastructure to painting the Golden Gate Bridge: As soon as you get to one end, you have to go back to the beginning to start over again. That kind of work requires a flexible capital structure, and Union has chosen to rely solely on CoBank for its funding needs, the result of a relationship that stretches back 25 years.
In July 2016, CoBank closed on $60.5 million in credit facilities to, among other things, support the company’s FCC Mobility Fund network upgrade project. “We have a lot of confidence in CoBank,” says John Woody, Union’s CEO and John D. Woody’s grandson. “They understand our industry and have been there for us for an awfully long time.”
“Wireless and broadband services are vital to the quality of life in rural America,” says Ted Koerner, senior vice president and manager of CoBank’s Communications Banking Division. “Regional service providers like Union are essential to the delivery of these services to rural communities, as well as everything from small local phone companies to large national carriers. CoBank’s mission is to serve the full spectrum of companies that support rural America and provide all of them with credit they can rely on.”