Community Feature Reliable Internet Helps Couple Relocate Closer to Grandkids
Natalie Watts had been itching to move closer to family ever since her grandchildren were born. She and her husband of 40 years, John, lived in Paola, about an hour south of downtown Kansas City, for more than three decades. Their daughter, Haley Whitehill, is a teacher at Burden Central Elementary. She and her husband, Josh, live with their children, 7-year-old Watson and 4-year-old Weslyn, in Latham, about 150 miles from Paola.
The six-hour round trip from Paola to Latham was a lot for their weekend trips every four to six weeks. Natalie and John (pictured with their grandchildren) decided it was time to look at homes in Southeast Kansas.
John retired from the City of Louisburg in 2019, so he didn’t have a job holding him to the area. Natalie has been an account manager with the Elliott Group, an independent insurance agency, for 24 years. She wasn’t quite ready to give it up. Luckily, she had begun working remotely about three years ago, and she could move anywhere there was a reliable, secure, and fast internet connection.
“With my job, I must have reliable internet and cell phone service. I need good download and upload speeds, as I download large files and upload these into our agency management system and to carrier websites. When we would look at properties to buy, the first thing I would do was check my cell service at the location and ask what internet options were available and how reliable it was.”
The process of finding just the right house took some time though.
“We lived three miles from town in Paola,” Natalie said. “We were hoping to find something like that, as we enjoyed living in the country.”
The pair have horses and miniature donkeys as well, so a home with a small acreage was important to them. They first moved to Winfield and lived there for a year before finding the perfect spot in Burden. They moved in about a year ago. It’s at the edge of town with some acreage. And, they have access to reliable, secure, and fast internet with SKT. Since it’s a small town, they’re on a first-name basis with the local SKT technicians. Natalie shares, “It works great!!! I’ve only had to call one time for service and that was due to a storm issue. Matt (Tatum, SKT Service Technician) was out quickly to get the issue taken care of.”
On a day-to-day basis, they use the internet for various devices, iPads, and TV, but mainly it’s for her job.
“I am working five days a week, about nine hours a day, which is all on the internet, so I need reliable service to take care of my clients,” Natalie said.
She must also keep up with the changes in the insurance industry – by attending licensing and training continuing-education classes. Post-pandemic, these have all moved from in-person to Zoom or Webex virtual platforms; however, even though they are recorded, Natalie must attend them live to participate in the polling questions to receive credit for the certifications – thereby keeping her designations up-to-date as an agent. Natalie expands on that, “I attended a two-day virtual training conference earlier this year with over 500 people and more recently 300. If the internet service is not reliable, I’m not able to function efficiently in my job.”
In a typical workweek, she’s on the phone with clients and underwriters, answering emails, and servicing and reviewing insurance policies and coverage limits for her clients. Natalie specializes in personal insurance – home, auto, and “big toys” such as boats, motorcycles, and RVs, plus small farms such as hobby farms. “When I start my day, it is pretty much non-stop until I shut it down. That is one drawback with working from home; sometimes it is hard to quit – if I can get one more thing done,” she laughs.
In that sense, Natalie clearly loves her job, her clients, her co-workers, and she’s really good at what she does. But things have changed with the Elliott Group over the years – just as they have with many businesses. “When I first started with the agency, most of the business was walk-in and some by phone. That has changed dramatically now. We have five locations, and some have more walk-in business than others, but the amount of email, phone, and online business has jumped. Our agency does e-filing, so we no longer have paper files, which works out great. We can electronically pull up signed documents or other information we may need for the clients … no more bulky paper files and file cabinets to take up space! We have Zoom meetings and I have policy reviews with clients by Zoom. Our agency management system and all the insurance carriers that we work with are all internet-based, so if our internet goes down, that can really put a halt to things. We do have contingencies in place, so that if one office goes down, phones can be routed to another office, and each office is on a different internet provider, so we can forward business to another office,” Natalie explains.
The benefits of moving to Burden far outweigh any small challenges. There’s reliable SKT internet. It allows Natalie to do her job seamlessly – with some clients probably thinking she’s in the insurance agency office – not at home. “When I’m talking to them … it’s really funny because some of my newer clients will say, ‘I’ll just come by the [Paola or Louisburg] office and I’ll see you,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, I work remotely, so I can either email the documents to you, send them to the local office for you to sign, or I can mail them to you – whatever works best for you,’ and they’ll say, ‘Well, where are you?’ and I’ll say, ‘I’m southeast of Wichita,’ and then they’ll say, ‘Wow! What are you doing out there?’” Natalie good-naturedly laughs. But perhaps more importantly, Natalie says, “We love being closer to our kids and being able to pick them up from school, watching ball practice, having them stay the day, or just running out to the farm for a visit,” adding,” We really like the small-town life … you will see us driving our golf cart around town – the kids love that.”
The Wattses recently became board members for Joseph’s Storehouse in Burden. Natalie says, “This is a wonderful organization and we are hoping to help in giving back to the community. We also have a very close church family. We are members of the First Baptist Church in Burden and feel God has led us to be here; we are truly blessed.”
SKT pledges to provide reliable internet service at an affordable rate, backed by hometown customer service. That allows Natalie, and other professionals, to take advantage of remote work opportunities while enjoying a rural lifestyle – and soak up all the precious time with her grandbabies.