A Local Connection: A conversation with Rainier Connect’s Brian Haynes

Eatonville-based Rainier Connect has a rich family history of connecting people in small towns. The business was started by a great-grandfather in 1910, and has passed through generations ever since. Today, the company employees 60 people in offices located in Eatonville, Centralia, Chehalis, and Tacoma.

The Tacoma Daily Index recently met Senior Vice President Brian Haynes to discuss Rainier Connect.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: Tell me about Rainier Connect. How was the company started?

BRIAN HAYNES: We’ve been a local telephone company from Eatonville since 1910. My grandfather’s grandfather — grandpa Pete Christenson — supposedly won the company in a pinochle game. It probably wasn’t the windfall that future generations figured out. It was probably more of a pain for him. My grandfather took it over in 1954. He made more money that year as a volunteer fireman than he did working for the company. My grandfather went off and did some wonderful things in the industry. He helped start a bank that would loan money and help rural companies build out their facilities and bring services to rural areas. In 1990, my dad took over the company. He has grown it five fold. In 1996, when the Telecommunications Act passed, he said, “Well, we’re just a small company with a couple thousand customers in Eatonville. If we’re going to win in the next round of telecom growth, we need to get out and grow.” Unlike 90 per cent of the other companies that went into the telecom industry, we built and own our facilities. We built a cable TV company in Graham. One-hundred per cent of our rural customers had cable-modem or DSL access by 1999 — most of them much sooner than that. There are some large companies that don’t even have 100 per cent access to DSL in metro areas. That says a lot. We brought all those services to a community that didn’t have them before. That’s pretty exciting.

INDEX: Your business recently moved to Tacoma, right?

HAYNES: One year ago. Up until then, this was the only area we served where we didn’t have an office. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on. We’re part of the community that we serve. It’s very imperative for us to have a presence in the community, and be active in the community — it’s huge for us. Otherwise, we’re really not local. We wanted to have a presence in Tacoma. We saw the growth potential. My dad worked in Tacoma until 1990. He was really sad to see the city fall into disrepair then. We’re more than excited to be here now to help rebuild the city. We’re one of the providers really helping to deploy high-tech services that can bring new companies into the area.

INDEX: Is Rainier Connect one of the oldest, family-owned telecommunications business in the area?

HAYNES: There are probably a handful of them. We won the mid-sized family Business of the Year Award this year. It was put on by the Family Enterprise Institute at Pacific Lutheran University. It was a big honor for us. That’s a big part: Why wouldn’t you want to do business with a company that, for one, is a family business, and two, is local? You know your money isn’t going back to New York. All of our customers know that if they have a problem, they can call me directly.

More information is available online at rainierconnect.com.

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Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.