For Jill Huffman, her passion has always been technology-driven. “I like technology, I like the advancements in technology and what it does to change people’s lives.” Jill is General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Spring Grove Communications, Harmony Telephone and MiBroadband. The trajectory of her career path began after graduating from Preston High School in 1992. After high school Jill went to two-year community college in Rochester and then transferred to Mankato to get a four-year business degree. With a degree in accounting, Jill had several jobs before her current position. “I lived in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Los Angeles, back to the Twin Cities and then I was ready to get back to the area. My family is still in the area.” Harmony Telephone had advertised a position, and Jill began working for the company in January 2004. Reflecting on her start Jill said, “I was lucky enough to be offered the position, and that’s what brought me back to the area. I fell in love with the industry, and 16 years later, here I am!” She was offered the position at Spring Grove Communications and now enjoys working for both.
When asked what her favorite part of her job was, Jill exclaimed, “Definitely the people I work with, everybody I work with are just an amazing team of people. It’s fun to come to work every day. We don’t ever have two days that are the same. So there’s no boredom or clock watching ever! Some of us have been in the industry about the same time, and we like to say, ‘Wow, you know 16 years and no two days have been the same. What are the odds of that?’” With the benefits of a great team and mentally stimulating work, another plus to working in the industry is the encouraging environment. Jill explained, “It’s a supportive industry. The board of directors I work with and our cooperative partners are engaged and helpful. Sometimes I feel bad that not everybody gets the opportunity to work in our industry.”
The pandemic has changed how a lot of people work, and the need for broadband is greater than ever. Jill shared, “It’s rewarding to provide a service that is so needed in our area, and to be part of that development and what it does for the economy of the rural area. Having access to broadband services in a rural area opens doors that prior to the advent of the internet didn’t exist.” Specifically, the benefits of teleworking. “We have so many people in our area we no longer know where they work because they work at home. That was something that didn’t exist when I entered the workforce. If I wanted to work for a big corporation I probably had to move to a big city, and now you can secure that employment and stay in the rural area that a lot of us have known and loved.”
There was a time during the shutdown where employees weren’t able to enter customer’s homes for their safety, so they had to learn how to do technical support differently. Jill couldn’t say enough about her team’s response. “I am so proud of the team of people I work with. They rose to every challenge the pandemic has put in front of them. Found their way around them, through them, and were still able to help customers and get people connected. The pandemic is still going on, and we understand the need for broadband has increased. We are making the necessary investments in our infrastructure to handle the increasing demand and looking forward to programs to help bring broadband to even more people.”
Jill’s responsibilities include attending board of director meetings, reviewing financials, preparing budgets, and grant writing throughout the year as programs become available. In January of 2020 Harmony Telephone announced that it won a USDA Reconnect 50% grant/ 50% loan, and that funding is being used to increase the broadband capacity to the rural customers of Harmony Telephone. When asked about the timeline, Jill explained, “Construction has already started on the project. We’re in a group of people hoping for a very late freeze. Obviously in Minnesota we have a limited construction season. The timelines are very determined by what happens with the weather. There’s a lot of factors, but our hope is by heading into late fall next year we’re at the point where we can start getting customers converted over to their new services in those areas.”
When she has free time, Jill enjoys reading, watching Netflix or Hulu, and gardening tomatoes and peppers in her salsa garden. As for life lessons from her career, Jill shared, “One of the biggest is to remember to live in the moment. For small business owners and managers a lot of our job focus is on looking forward. Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up into that forward planning and forget there’s a moment happening right now. If you don’t slow down you can miss so many things.” Jill’s mindful approach is a worthwhile goal, and one that she is still working on. Her mindfulness extends to the gratitude she feels for where she is right now. “I’m lucky to be working in a place with so many great people. Supportive people, supportive industry… I find myself fortunate to have found the job I have in an area I love to live and I am very grateful.”