With locally owned Midwest Wireless up for sale, the fate of nearly 650 employees is high on the minds of local leaders.

Two industry analysts say the number of job reductions the company would see will depend on who buys the company and how they fit into the buyers’ plans.

One of the five largest national wireless companies is likely to be the top bidder for Midwest Wireless, which the Wall Street Journal reported could be sold for about $1 billion. Verizon, which already has some operating agreements with Midwest, is considered the leading contender.

Verizon, with 47 million subscribers, is the second largest in the country. Midwest Wireless has 425,000 subscribers in mostly rural areas of three states.

Midwest Wireless officials said they could not comment on any analyst’s or other speculation regarding a possible sale.

Joe Nordgaard, managing director of Spectral Advantage, a strategic wireless consulting firm in New Jersey, said Verizon does not have a lot of existing overlap in this market, which would be good for Midwest Wireless employees.

“Verizon would be an ideal suitor. They’re a good company and they pay pretty well and they’re growing.”

“There appears to be little overlap (between Verizon and Midwest Wireless), so that would argue for keeping the assets. And the fact you’re in a lower wage and lower tax area helps,” Nordgaard said.

He said the lower wages here could even lead to a major player like Verizon reducing high-paid workers somewhere else and keeping more in Mankato.

Christopher Sandberg is an attorney with Lockridge, Grindal, Nauen of Minneapolis and specializes in telecommunications law and analysis. He said the number of job cuts in Mankato will depend on what company ends up buying Midwest Wireless

“If they are just looking at subscribers, and they can fairly easily centralize (Midwest’s) system into their own, I expect them not to care very much about local infrastructure and employees,” Sandberg said.

Part of the outcome, he said, will depend on how easily a buyer could remotely operate Midwest Wireless’ system. If a buyer could fairly easily take over Midwest’s operations through one of the buyer’s existing regional centers, there would be less need for a large Mankato presence.

“But if the (Midwest) network is the sort that to keep it running well, it’s more efficient to keep more of it local, then they may not want to mess up a good thing and they’d be more interested in leaving it alone more.”

No matter what, Sandberg said, the local presence and control Midwest Wireless has had in Mankato the past 15 years will be markedly changed if it is sold.

“They will be under the corporate umbrella. There won’t be that local central control as in the past,” Sandberg said. “And there will, no matter what, be overlap and redundancies (that will lead to job reductions).”

Nordgaard said there’s a chance there will be no sale at all. He said the fact the potential sale landed on the pages of the Wall Street Journal points to potential problems.

“Once it’s in the press, you never know what might happen. Someone dropped it to the Wall Street Journal for a reason. It might be a competitor (of Verizon) trying to screw up their deal, drive the price up,” he said. “It’s just vicious out there — you never know who’s doing what or why.

“Obviously if Verizon’s there looking, they’ve done their homework and are interested (in Midwest Wireless). It’ll just be a question of how much pain they’re willing to take. A billion dollars is probably a bit pricey.”

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