Happy 25th Birthday, WordSouth!

January 1, 2021By Stephen V. Smith

A lot can happen in a quarter-century.

Happy birthday to you, WordSouth, an experiment that started as an idea, became a career and grew into a company that’s having an impact on communities across America. On New Year’s Day, you turn 25.

Many in the industry have heard our origin story, how my wife and I started the company as an extension of my freelance work, how I left a stable newspaper job to launch a small business, how we started with one contract, a prayer and two small kids.

Those kids are grown now, that newspaper closed years ago, and that little experiment now has 30 or so employees distributed across six states serving clients from Texas to South Carolina, from Florida to Minnesota and well beyond.

Hitting the 25-year mark means you’ve beaten a lot of odds, but it also means you’ve done at least a few things right. Here are some things I believe make that list:

  • While WordSouth has worked with several types of businesses through the years, our focus has always been on electric utilities and telecommunications companies. Specializing in those two industries has allowed us to go deep on experience and understanding — and prepared us well to be of service in this era where the two industries are merging to some extent.
  • We’ve been blessed to work with good people who have a heart for serving their communities. We are drawn to them and consider ourselves blessed to help them raise the quality of life in their communities.
  • We’ve been blessed with great employees. They are drawn to us, and we consider ourselves blessed to have them as part of our family.

When WordSouth opened its doors (the door to our spare bedroom), we dialed up the internet over our 28.8k modem. We eventually rented an office and leased a fax machine because any reputable business had one. Our tape backup drives sat between our file server and that stack of unused AOL CDs. There were no smartphones, although we did have a cellular phone wired into our car. This was two years before Google, eight years before Facebook, 10 years before Twitter.

Though the channels for reaching people have changed significantly since we launched, the larger message has not. Our clients provide services that help communities develop, families thrive, and people succeed. They are driven by their sense of mission to make life better, to do collectively for their communities what for-profit providers could never justify doing.

On our 25th birthday, we are also celebrating six months into our partnership with Pioneer Utility Resources. Selling a business in the middle of a pandemic will be a story we’ll tell our grandkids and great-grandkids. The challenges were all very much worth it. In PUR we found a strategic acquirer who could help WordSouth scale to meet the growing need for our services in the new industry realities that continue to take shape. We also found a like-minded, mission-oriented company eager to become a better organization together than we could be separately. Finally, we found a group of people led by the cooperative spirit, committed to doing what’s right, and determined to make a difference by doing great work for our collective clients 

As a bonus, 2020 was the year we made the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing independent companies. It’s the last year WordSouth will be eligible, and we’re honored to be listed among this esteemed group.

So much has changed for WordSouth across a quarter-century, but it’s wonderful to look back and see that in many ways we are the same company at our core that we were on New Year’s Day 1996. We are so thankful for the opportunity to bring quality communications support to those connecting their hometowns with reliable electricity and broadband. After 25 years, we’re still helping them tell their stories, market their services and train their people. And that, my friends, is something to celebrate.

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