Local before local was cool

Autonomy & Independence: One of the Seven Cooperative Principles that give all co-ops guidance

Whether you travel across the country or prefer to stay close to your hometown, one thing you may be noticing is the emphasis on “Buy Local” campaigns. This is based on one simple fact: It’s important to support businesses that support our community.

The Small Business Administration and the research firm Civic Economics estimate that dollars spent at a locally owned business stay in the community more than three times longer than money spent at “Big Box” stores, headquartered far away from your hometown. This means your community wealth is more likely to grow by shopping locally.

Consumer cooperatives, like Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, have known this forever. We were formed in the 1930s by people across the state to serve the people that work, worship and live in this community.

A common expression among cooperators is, “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op.”  While there are many similarities between co-ops, the fact that we are controlled locally, allowing us to serve your needs, is a critically important principle.

The fourth of our Seven Cooperative Principles is: Autonomy and Independence. And that is defined as follows: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative’s autonomy.

This will allow us to continue to be the self-help organization envisioned by the founders of the modern cooperative movement.

In other words, for the co-op to stay a co-op it is vitally important we stay close to you, our members, to ensure we are continuing to respond to your needs. This could be through increasing energy-efficiency programs, offering renewable sources of energy and continuing our efforts to support other local businesses, schools and civic organizations.

You can be sure that electric cooperatives will not be moving operations to Mexico or China, as so many other corporations do. We began right here in Tennessee, and we plan on being here for a very long time. You can take that to the bank, or better yet, the credit union – as all credit unions are financial cooperatives. As always, we welcome your participation and suggestions about how we can improve our locally owned and controlled services.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed.  He is an author, speaker and a member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op.  You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at


The 2012 National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE) Conference was held July 28- August 1 on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. The theme for this year’s conference was “The View is NICE at the Top.”

Tennessee 4-H was represented at this event by Lynsey Jones and Holly Nehls, both are Senior 4-H members from Knox County. These students were awarded the trip as runners-up in the Level II leadership and citizenship competition at Tennessee 4-H Congress in Nashville last April.

FFA was represented by Cheyenne Hanloh, Daniel Deas, Spencer Sanders, and Station Camp High School Agriculture Teacher – Brad Kirkham. These students were selected because of their achievements in the State FFA Star Agribusiness and State Proficiency Competition which was held in Gatlinburg last April as well.

The NICE Conference is intended to provide a deeper understanding of cooperatives to the youth participants who are the cooperative members, customers, employees, directors, and leaders of tomorrow. Participants gained an understanding of how cooperatives differ from other business forms and will hear cooperative success stories in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. In a team setting, attendees will serve as managers of a simulated cooperative store, competing with other stores in their market area for sales and profit. Teams will also analyze case studies, develop their own student-run cooperative or STUCO and participate in team-building and leadership development activities. The closing session will recognize the teams that have been the top performers in various conference activities. The Youth Scholar Program provides both educational and social activities.

The youth and adults attending the NICE conference also toured the McCormick Farm & Workshop in Raphine, VA. Cyrus McCormick, founder of the McCormick Harvest Machine Company which became part of International Harvester Company is credited as the “inventor” of the mechanical reaper. The group also visited the Natural Bridge and the Natural Bridge Caverns all located in Virginia.

The trip was sponsored by the Tennessee Council of Cooperatives (TCC). Mr. Todd Blocker, Director of Member Relations at TECA and a member of the TCC Board of Directors accompanied the students on the trip. Youth from Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and South Dakota also attended the conference.

Tennessee co-ops send volunteers to Virginia

NASHVILLE – Working jointly with other statewide electric cooperative organizations, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are sending crews to Virginia to help restore electric service to those affected by severe storms on Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30.

“Six Tennessee cooperatives are sending volunteer lineworkers and equipment to assist cooperatives in Virginia,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “With record-setting heat in the area, it is critical that power be restored as soon as possible. Like residents in the affected areas, our lineworkers face some very long and very hot days ahead of them.”

Emergency work plans were put into place on Saturday morning, June 30, and crews from Tennessee headed for Virginia later that day. This cooperation is enabled through mutual aid agreements between electric cooperatives.

Assisting Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative in Mount Crawford, Va.:

  • five lineworkers from Mountain Electric Cooperative, Mountain City
  • four from Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Madisonville
  • five from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, South Pittsburg

Assisting Central Virginia Electric Cooperative in Arrington, Va.:

  • 10 lineworkers from Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, New Tazewell
  • six from Plateau Electric Cooperative, Oneida

Assisting BARC Electric Cooperative in Millboro, Va.:

  • 10 lineworkers from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, New Market

Some Tennessee cooperatives received damage from the same storm system that impacted Virginia. Holston Electric Cooperative, Mountain Electric Cooperative, Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative and Volunteer Energy Cooperative service areas received wind-related storm damage over the weekend.

Holston Electric Cooperative and Powell Valley Electric Cooperative also had outages caused by a fire at TVA’s John Sevier generation plant. All service was restored on Friday evening. The John Sevier plant remains off-line, and TVA is requesting that northwest Tennessee residents conserve energy when possible until the plant resumes production and the high temperatures subside.

“We put our own members first. We only provide assistance to out-of-state co-ops after our own needs are met,” says Callis. “Sending crews and equipment to other states does represent a risk, but our cooperatives are always eager to help when possible.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve.