Investing with Ethics and Alpha in Mind
In this year’s report, we will highlight achievements across our portfolio, but particularly NWS, Hunter, Ritter, Alares, and GPC. Each company exemplifies ESG and how to operate a business with a responsible approach in mind.
Alongside our partners, we are constantly reaffirming our investment thesis: Solving the problems of tomorrow today through digital
connectivity and collaboration is a powerful and sound opportunity to create value beyond the beta.
As the world navigates an unpredictable geopolitical and economic climate, the role of global communication technology continues to grow in criticality and in its ability to define and transform human experiences.
The effects of the pandemic, widening equity gaps, and economic disruption have called most urgently for a reliable compass through times of turbulence. At Grain, that compass has been our Firm’s steadfast focus on process, preparedness, and continuous advancement toward outperformance – both economic and social.
The Global Broadband Communications Industry has presented fertile ground for private investment, while serving as a center for socially essential work. From both vantage points, Grain continues to lead the way as a Solutions Provider to this global industry, creating opportunity, growth, and impact. In our 2021/2022 Report, you will read about how Grain and its executive partners have moved the needle across four different pillars: 1) board diversity, 2) community involvement, 3) sustainability, and 4) transformative infrastructure funding.
Companies like Network Wireless Solutions (NWS) and its progressive action in board governance continue to lead the industry in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Businesses like Alares (fka Grupo Conexão) set the bar for sustainability and environmental responsibility in Brazil; and Great Plains Communications brings fiber service to rural America, leveraging greater impact from public infrastructure funding during an urgent time, bringing connectivity to the center of US food production.
I am delighted by our progress this year, and look onward to more growth, development, and continuous improvement.
Sustainable Development Goals
Grain has sought to identify and support the development of these ESG principles at the Firm and portfolio company level. In 2021, Grain identified a robust set of portfolio wide ESG topic areas and KPIs. The metrics were informed by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (“SASB”), ISO 26000, IRIS+ and the UN SDGs, specifically aligning with SDG 9,10,1,3,4 and 8, analyses into company operations, and collaborative conversations with our portfolio companies. The Firm added additional metrics in order to align our metrics and monitoring program with the ESG Data Convergence Initiative. Further specification on our KPIs can be found in our full report here.
From initial consideration, Grain assesses value creation opportunities or risks a company presents and historically gravitates towards companies that display the potential to generate positive social impacts to underserved or rural communities.
Of Grain’s new hires over the last 12 months, racially or ethnically diverse or female professionals represent over
We are focused on positioning our portfolio companies with operational experts in the industry, and this year we have made strides in that goal. NWS bolstered their team with additions of Xavier Williams as Chief Executive Officer, and Michael Millegan as a member of the board of directors – both seasoned technology executives with several years of leading company strategy. Hunter announced IT industry veteran, Ehrika Gladden, as a new board member, bringing more than three decades of progressive executive leadership experience
NWS and Hunter Workplace Diversity
NWS is a rapidly growing solutions and logistics provider to carriers and telecommunications contractors.
The company sells custom hybrid and fiber optic cables to broadband providers, and offers services in cell site development, inventory management, and material distribution sales.
Hunter Communications is a leading fiber connectivity provider with a presence throughout southern Oregon and parts of northern California. Hunter began operations in 1994 as a telecom construction services-provider. Today, Hunter is one of the largest private telecom operators in Oregon with over 2,400 fiber route miles. The company provides data and voice connectivity services to enterprise, carrier, government, education, and healthcare customers across the region.
In addition to our support of several organizations whose mission is to advance education, mentorship, and career opportunities for diverse groups, Grain supports community engagement through philanthropic efforts and sponsorship of conferences that are working towards the same goal of positively impacting their communities.
Hunter Communications Upgrades Medford International Airport
The Medford International Airport in Oregon serves as a vital pillar in the Rogue Valley community and stands as one of the biggest small-hub airports that exists in the US. As the world returns to travel, the airport has experienced a continuous uptick in airport traffic, with internet connectivity suffering as a result. As part of Hunter’s broader plan to provide fast, reliable internet to the Rogue Valley, their team partnered with the airport to ensure internet speeds remained stable despite the increased foot traffic.
“The Rogue Valley is a beautiful place to live and work and we need infrastructure that supports our growing community,” said Carey Cahill, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Hunter Communications.
Through a self-funded initiative, Hunter invested nearly $40,000 into the airport and increased the prior speed by ten times. The Medford International Airport is now one of the fastest internet capable airports in the country which enables more people to do business from the Rogue Valley.
This upgrade only partially displays how Hunter has impacted the local community through its promise of “better connections start at Hunter.”
Historically, they have provided similar services to the fairgrounds, festivals, and other local event spaces, with plans to make Southern Oregon a leader in technology.
“It’s these kinds of partnerships, that put Southern Oregon on the map and make this region an amazing place to live, work and play,” said Randy Sparacino, Mayor of Medford.
In 2022, Hunter continued to expand their fiber services beyond enterprises and businesses, with plans to double the number of homes where Hunter fiber will be available through self-funded initiatives.
Ritter Communications, Arkansas’ Best Place to Work
Ritter Communications has been at the forefront of the local telecommunications industry for more than a century, and their culture remains core to the business. To cultivate a positive environment, Ritter utilizes employee feedback and engagement to ensure a transparent, strong culture is maintained. They regularly conduct employee culture surveys that demonstrate the positive themes throughout their business; in 2021 / 2022, these included commitment and retention, communication, diversity and inclusion, and more.
Underlying employees have long been describing Ritter Communications as one of the best places to work in Arkansas, and external organizations support their opinion. Selected for its commitment to quality, customer service, business reputation and innovative vision for the future, Ritter was recognized as Business of the Year in 2021 by Arkansas Business. Subsequently in 2021 and 2022, Ritter was named as one of the Best Places to Work in Arkansas by Arkansas Business, determined by extensive surveys filled out by both employers and employees of a business.
1 As determined by Arkansas Business nomination
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when our work has felt more meaningful,” Alan Morse, CEO of Ritter Communications, said.
“A lot of these communities that we are now moving into with these private-public partnerships with the state or with the local mayors and county judges. These are areas that have been underserved for years. Areas where the big national companies haven’t spent a dollar improving their networks, sometimes for 30 years or so.”
The current environment has displayed the increasing urgency to focus on an aligned global response to climate change, and we look to find meaningful ways to contribute. We are working on a system to comprehensively track our GHG emissions and renewable energy consumption across both our Firm and our underlying portfolio companies.
Alares Sets the Bar for Sustainability in Brazil
As a company that is based in a country with nascent recycling infrastructure, Alares² maintains a formal program for the recycling and reuse of incidental office waste, paper, plastic, metal, end-of-life fiber optic cables, and electronic components.
Alares has adopted specific measures to ensure the proper disposal of cabling materials used in internet installations. At the Multiplay and Ideia facilities, the Company recovers FTTH and HFC waste for co-processing purposes, reusing the solid industrial waste as a source of energy for cement kilns. In doing so, Alares helps to reduce the production of greenhouse gases, the environmental impacts of the raw material extraction process, and the amount of tailings in landfills. At other business units, fibers are incinerated to reduce the volume of waste discarded.
The Company has made extensive efforts not only to recycle and dispose of specific materials appropriately, but also to reduce their consumption in the first place. According to the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Waste Companies (“ABRELPE”), more than 720 million disposable cups are used daily, which is equivalent to more than 1,500 tons of waste occupying landfills or the environment itself¹.
1 As of 2021
2 In November 2022 Grupo Conexão launched their new brand ‘Alares’
Considering an average of 2,300 employees across all business units, Alares saw an estimated reduction of 3,358,080 disposable cups from April 2021 to April 2022. Alares has adopted the practice of recycling electronic waste (“e-waste”), and every June, the Company participates in Brazil Environment Week as a voluntary e-waste delivery point, referred to as an “EcoPonto” (“Eco Point”), where customers, partners, and the broader community may deposit their e-waste. Additionally, each of the Company’s facilities has a designated e-waste receptacle for personnel to use. The Company donates the e-waste to the Sustainable Waste NGO, which is responsible for carrying out appropriate sorting and recycling actions. In 2021, Alares donated 41.53 metric tons of e-waste.
PUBLIC GRANT FUNDING
The recent passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“ILJA”) demonstrates the undeniable need for equal access to broadband connectivity across the United States and beyond. ILJA represents the largest federal government investment in broadband in United States history, with $65 billion allocated to broadband infrastructure investment.
Grant Funding Highlight:
Great Plains Communications deploys capital to expand network regional infrastructure, using:
Federal Universal Service Fund (“FUSF”)
Nebraska Universal Service Fund (“NUSF”)
Alternative Connect America Cost Model (“A-CAM”)
Other funding to reach rural and tribal communities as appropriate
Ritter's Broadband Expansion in Stuttgart with RiberFiber is a "Game Changer"
Historically, Stuttgart, Arkansas has lagged behind the latest developments in internet service, severely impacting the quality of life for residents and economic development with internet speeds almost 1,000 times slower than broadband.
The community recently received a grant from the Arkansas Rural Connect (“ARC”) Grant Program, which required Stuttgart to identify a private provider to build the proper infrastructure and provide service thereafter. While multiple providers made pitches, the community opted to go with Ritter because of their customer service and RightFiber business model.
All residents have access to RightFiber which is a residential fiber service that includes internet, phone and video.
The RightFiber product was created based on the “Right For You” pledge – that Ritter believes the best formula for continued growth and success is doing what is right for their customers, employees and the communities they serve.
This fiber service came during an urgent time – extending beyond a quality-of-life issue or the desire to attract new businesses. Stuggart sits in the Arkansas Delta, which is surrounded by row crop fields and rice paddies. Several businesses with national and international ties have been impacted severely by the lack of high-speed internet, most notably when service went completely down for multiple days, causing the businesses to operate through telephones only.
“This is the difference between having running water and not having running water,” city spokesman Eric Mahfouz said.
For businesses like Riceland Foods Inc., the largest miller and marketer of rice in the world, this quickly creates a non-operational environment. Stuttgart Economic Development Coordinator David Leech noted that the expanded broadband is a “game changer.” Since the start of RightFiber, talks have renewed with developers to build out on the land further, setting the tone for years to come in community development initiatives.