Natco's 3G Still Called To Connect In Flippin

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of business history feature stories. Suggestions for future “Fifth Monday” articles are welcome. Please contact Gwen Moritz at (501) 372-1443 or by email at GMoritz@ABPG.com.)

In 2011, Natco Communications Inc. of Flippin entered its 60th year. Two years before that, Steven Sanders Jr. became president and general manager, ushering the company into its third generation of family ownership.

The company was founded in 1951 when World War II veteran Ray Sanders and his business partner, Artel Chamberlain, bought Flippin Telephone Co. Flippin was a favorite vacation spot for Sanders, a Chicagoan.

Sanders rechristened the company Northern Arkansas Telephone Co. At the time, it served a grand total of 42 customers. Sanders began the task of growing the company while his wife, Millie, operated the switchboards.

He started by extending a line to Bull Shoals, and from there the company continued expanding, building phone lines in many underserved, rural communities between Mountain Home and Harrison.

With the help of government loans, the telephone company expanded rapidly through the 1960s. But because the rural telephone business wasn’t proving profitable, the next-in-line in the Sanders family was looking for employment elsewhere.

“Before [Natco] ever paid a dividend it was 20 years,” said Steven Sanders Sr., Ray Sanders’ son, who was a teenager when the company was founded. “It didn’t even look like it was going to be much of a viable business, so I had to go and do my own thing.”

Steven Sr. took his family north, back to Illinois, where he became a professor of physics at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Ill.

Second Generation

But in the late 1970s, Ray Sanders suffered a stroke. Steven Sr. returned to Flippin with his family, and in 1982, took over the company when his father died. Steven Sr. continued to expand and improve the company’s infrastructure.

“The company didn’t get profitable until I started to manage it,” he said.

When his son, Steven Jr., was 12, he would walk two blocks from school to Natco headquarters, where he would help his father and other employees with odd jobs.

 

 

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