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Why this Metro East internet provider is on the hunt for nearly 300 new employees

Founded in 2003, Wisper provides service to roughly 18,000 customers in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas
File photo from Getty ThinkStock

MASCOUTAH, Ill. — A Mascoutah-based internet service provider is looking to hire as many as 300 new employees after the Federal Communications Commission authorized the firm millions in funding to expand broadband access.

The FCC earlier this month said it had given final authorization to release $220.3 million of federal funding to Wisper ISP to expand broadband access in a number of Midwest states. The company in 2018 won the funds through the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction and has been assigned to provide broadband to more than 80,000 households and businesses in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The bulk of those locations, more than 68,000, are in Missouri.

With the federal funding, Wisper plans to grow its staff and target where it will begin providing the high-speed internet. Wisper owner and CEO Nathan Stooke said the company expects to open 16 to 24 remote offices across Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma.

“I want to stay more local and I want my general managers of these local offices to go to their grocery stores, go to church with the customers we provide service to,” he said. “Even though we are going to scale and become larger, that’s how we’re going to keep that local feel. We need to be ingrained in these communities we are going to be providing service to.”

Founded in 2003, Wisper provides service to roughly 18,000 customers in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas. The company, which has about 100 employees, has annual revenue of $14 million. Stooke talked with the Business Journal about the rollout of the federal funds. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

This funding was first announced in August 2018. What was the process of getting it released? The process has been long. Obviously, the government shutdown that a lot forgot about so long ago kind of put the FCC on their back foot. Not only were they shut down for over a month, they then had to catch up. They had to vet each company. We had to submit a network design. We had to submit how we were going to do what we were going to do. Then they used their engineers to review to say "yes this is viable," "no, we don’t think so" or "we have a couple more questions." We were able to go through all of that process with them. It did take a long time, but I think it was well worth it because they thoroughly vetted us. 

What are the immediate next steps? We’ll get our first check at the end of February. We’re going to have a little bit of celebration when we get the first check in our bank account. As a leadership team, we knew we were close at our strategic outset in December. We decided we were going to start planning for our CAF buildout in hiring and doing all those next steps as of Jan. 1, 2020. 

What has hiring looked like? We’ve hired about 15 people in the last three months. We have about another 30 positions we are going to open up very, very soon. Our first line of business is to secure the talent we are going to need. Get the employees in, teach them the Wisper way and ramp up for what we need to do. The next step that we’ve been doing is deciding where in our network we are going to build first. 

Click here for the full interview. 

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