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Co-ops — closer than you think

by David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Our weekend shopping excursion had several oddly related purchases. Among them: butter, dog food, cranberry juice and running gear. All interconnected to each other. And all have something uniquely in common with your electric bill. The link?

For the first clue, we go to England. The year is 1844, and 28 weavers have just formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. This group of tradesmen was able to collectively sell their products in a store that they could not have individually afforded. Yet working together, they prospered, eventually expanding into ownership of a mill and textile factory. The “Rochdale” principles they adopted eventually evolved into today’s Seven Cooperative Principles. Your electric cooperative still operates by them. And 2012 has been named the International Year of the Cooperative.

Residents of rural and suburban Tennessee are most likely members of an electric or telephone cooperative — often both. Occasionally derided as anachronistic relics of the Depression Era, electric cooperatives are anything but irrelevant. Nationwide, we’re leaders in energy-efficiency efforts, advanced metering infrastructure and alternative energy solutions. Member-owned and member-governed, we are nonprofits, operating as economically as possible and reinvesting margins back into the cooperative and the community.

“At a time when folks are losing faith in big corporations, the International Year of Cooperatives offers us a great opportunity to showcase many ways the local, consumer-owned and member-controlled cooperative form of business benefits communities all over the world,” declares Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The number of cooperatives is staggering: There are 900 electric cooperatives and 260 telephone cooperatives in the U.S., serving 42 million electric co-op members and 1.2 million rural telephone members. All told, the United States boasts 29,200 co-ops that run the gamut from insurance companies, food processors, daycare centers and apartment complexes to the better-known farmers co-ops.

Other familiar names you might not recognize as cooperatives are Ace Hardware, Blue Diamond Almonds, Welch’s, Nationwide Insurance, Sunkist, the Associated Press and Dairy Farmers of America. All are based on the same principle-driven model that forms the foundation for electric cooperatives.

So what co-op stops were on our shopping trip? The butter was made by Land O’ Lakes, the dog food came from Sumner Farmers Co-op, Ocean Spray made the cranberry juice and the running gear came from Recreational Equipment Inc. — better known as REI.
To quote Martin Lowery, longtime cooperative advocate and NRECA executive vice president of external affairs, “Co-ops empower people to take control over their own economic destiny. It’s in every co-op’s DNA to serve members in the best way possible. That’s why co-ops remain the best type of business around.”

For more information about the Rochdale cooperative, Benjamin Franklin’s cooperative effort and an international perspective, go to tnelectric.org.

Powering Progress

by David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Near the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” as Tom Hanks’ character is dying, he leans forward and mutters one last command to the young private: “Earn this.” He speaks the words after most of his men have died saving the private’s life. He speaks the words to the soldier in an effort to convey the magnitude of the sacrifice made on his behalf.

Moving forward with a new team in place for 2012, “Earn this” is our internal watchword at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.While not as dramatic as a life-or-death struggle, the foundation on which we’re building involves a legacy that began in the 1930s.Early cooperative leaders were more than pioneers. The tactics they used were revolutionary, and the business acumen they possessed was cutting edge. Investor- owned utilities and legislators first ignored them and then tried to run them out of business. The co-op organizers took them on — and won. They were fighting for a better life for themselves, their children and their communities.

More than 70 years later, those cooperative principles and goals remain unchanged.Whether the work was done in the 1930s or the 1990s, we have a legacy of service and commitment that is to be earned — not squandered. Just like our predecessors from the ’30s, we’re committed to using nothing less than the best tools and technologies available to us today. Though the methodology is dramatically different — electronic social media has replaced the telephone party line — the basic principles of our business model remain the same.

As we move forward at TECA, we’re aware of our task, and we have our focus Squarely on you — the co-op members.In addition to publishing The Tennessee Magazine, TECA provides energy marketing assistance and a variety of education and training to today’s cooperative leaders. We also coordinate legislative efforts to protect the interests of the electric cooperative members in the state.

Those black-and-white images of the past serve as silent sentinels that repeat the charge to earn their sacrifice — a charge that we embrace with a tremendously talented group of employees with more than 160 years of varied experiences working on behalf of rural Tennessee. That background and commitment power our progress as we work for you — for the next 70 years and far beyond.

Our leadership team:

Robin Conover, vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine; Mike Knotts, director of government relations; Todd Blocker, director of member relations; Trent Scott, communications coordinator.

Chris Kirk, Ron Bell and Susan Pilgreen round out the staff of The Tennessee Magazine. Amy Jordan, Tina Smith, Andrea Knight and Miyuki Fowler provide accounting, human resources and administrative support.

As for myself — I have more than 25 years of public power background. My decade of work as TECA director of government relations was preceded by service at Tri-County Electric in Lafayette and the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga.

For much more information on TECA and bios of the employees that work on your behalf, click here.

The ripples of good deeds

by Tom Purkey, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

I had a wonderful November. Each year representatives from all Tennessee electric co-ops gather for an annual membership meeting, just like the individual cooperatives do, featuring speakers who provide a host of useful information and political leaders to report on our state and country.

This year’s meeting was special for me: It was my last. I gave my usual report to the representatives of the 23 member electric cooperatives that make up the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association; however, on the first evening, I was honored that more than 400 people attended a reception for me. Four managers who do what I do at other states even came and made really kind remarks.

It was a wonderful way to finalize my tenure at TECA. Seeing friends from the past as well as current friends and folks with whom I work … it was the highlight of my career. But besides that, I had my wife, Sharon, and all four of our children and six grandchildren by my side. That was special. Being able to introduce my whole family to the managers, directors, employees, attorneys and other guests was very rewarding.

I originally reserved this column to introduce you to the newest Purkey — a grandson scheduled to arrive mid-December, the fifth child for my son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Lisa. But he’s decided to choose his own delivery date, so at the time of publication, he’s still in a “holding pattern.” When I think about “Baby Purkey,” I can’t help but wonder what’s in store for him as he lives his life. What does his “future plan” look like?

No one can answer that question, but everything we do will affect his life. A preacher at our church recently said that any kind deed we do to another person resonates eternally and changes things in other people’s lives forever. That statement is a sobering thought: that we are all constantly changing the lives of people around us.

Having grandchildren will certainly keep me on my toes at all times, especially knowing that every good deed is like a rock being tossed into a lake … the resulting waves go out over and over again, affecting the water clear to the shoreline. We generally refer to it as the “ripple effect.”

I look forward to touching the life of our new grandson as well as the lives of the rest of the grandchildren, and I’m hopeful that their lives will reflect the good deeds that they see from all their family, including their Papa and Granny.

I have enjoyed my career at TECA, and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family. Goodbye, and may God bless each of you in everything you do.