Epiphanies can occur in the strangest places. Alan Northcutt's came when he was out in the boonies blowing beaver dams.
And the farmer's son, who'd planned on a non-agricultural career, ended up with a company that provides a high tech service to farmers, businesses, and residents in a multi-county area of east central Arkansas. Details of the evolution of his wireless Internet service are found on Page 18 in this issue.
In college, Northcutt recalls, “I wanted to get a summer job away from the farm. But the options were mainly sacking groceries or bussing restaurant tables.”
His father, Travis, “cooperated with Ford Baldwin (then Arkansas Extension weed management specialist) in on-farm research, and Dr. Baldwin offered me a job helping with his projects. It was work in agriculture — but it wasn't farming. And there's a lot of technology in ag research.”
After that, he transferred to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, majoring in agronomy. “I was set on getting a degree and doing research for DuPont or some other major company. Then all the corporate mergers and downsizing hit, and those aspirations were torpedoed.
“I went back to the farm in '92, figuring I could do that and research, too. We had a couple of good bean years and I was feeling pretty good. Then, the ag economy fell apart. It just wasn't feasible that my father and I could get a living from 1,200 acres — and though my heart was in agriculture, the desire to farm just wasn't there.”
It was during fall harvest time that the epiphany took place that would transform the reluctant farm boy. Out in the woods and thickets, blowing beaver dams, he happened on an abandoned antique British sports car.
“I couldn't find information about that model car in the library, so I started scouring the Internet, and I was able to download a complete manual. As I restored the car, I utilized the Internet to get more information, locate parts, and communicate with other car owners. I had to learn to use scanners and digital cameras and other technology. I created a Website, on which I kept a journal of what I was doing with the car.”
And he discovered that trying to do all that on a dial-up telephone connection “was horrible, absolutely horrible.”
His search for better, faster Internet service led to wireless technology and then to starting a business to fill a need he saw right there in Arkansas farm country. Now, his company, Light Speed Net, is growing steadily.
Something else happened, Northcutt says. “Along the way, while all this was going on, I gained a closer relationship with my father and I came to have a deeper understanding of what he and other farmers have had to cope with in pursuing the life they've chosen. Although I still don't think I could be a farmer, I owe everything I had up through college to farming, and I have a tremendous appreciation for what they do.”
And the antique car? “I could probably get $6,000 for it.” He laughs, “I've probably got $12,000 in it.”
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