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COMMENTARY ARCHVES
   

JULY COMMENTARY
by Share Brandt

Get to Know Us

When I started this job in 2008, the business of electric cooperatives was familiar to me, the Wisconsin electric cooperative members were not. At my first meeting of WECA members it became clear to me that my biggest challenge would be getting to know directors, managers, and members of WECA member co-ops. This would also prove to be the most enjoyable part of my job.

Having worked with electric co-op members in the neighboring state of Minnesota for 21 years, I knew them to be early adopters of innovative ideas and technologies that allowed them to better serve their members. Cooperatives share their successful ideas so other co-ops can also succeed at providing needed services to their members. By learning about the innovations taking place in co-ops around the nation, I am able to measure how innovative the electric co-op folks in Wisconsin are.

When we published the 75-year history of the statewide association we covered many innovations from the past, including the creation of an engineering team to design the co-ops’ electric systems, electrical supply purchasing company, and insurance company. All of these organizations have since been spun off into successful independent cooperatives.

National Stage

Another way I benchmark is by watching the cutting-edge ideas our National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is highlighting in its monthly magazine. What I have noticed over the last four years is that Wisconsin’s electric co-op leaders frequently appear in Rural Electrification Magazine. Features have included a co-op’s commitment to employee leadership development, a statewide employee’s off-the-job musical talent, several of our co-ops’ commitment to community efforts, among many other topics.

The most recent issue featured two different innovations in which Wisconsin’s electric co-ops are leaders. One was the creation of an after-hours/emergency response call center created to benefit co-op members; the Cooperative Response Center (CRC) has now evolved into a national service cooperative. Like many companies started by electric co-ops, the CRC is not satisfied to only provide the service it was designed to provide. This co-op has adopted new technologies to provide services that were not envisioned 20 years ago when it was created.

Opportunities to Learn

The next topic highlighted co-ops’ Member Advisory Committees (MAC), small groups of members who meet with the co-op manager, key staff, and directors to learn about the co-op. Often the MAC provides valuable feedback about potential policy changes, new services, and community service programs. I know that many Wisconsin electric co-ops have active and informed members volunteering to attend these Member Advisory Committee meetings. Sometimes MAC members decide to run for the board of directors and become the members’ representative decision-maker.

Electric co-ops offer ample opportunities to learn about the co-op and electricity through membership annual and district meetings, member appreciation events, and an open door for members to come into the office and meet with the staff or general manager. I hope you will take the time to get to know the folks at your electric co-op. Start by attending the annual meeting or member appreciation event—it will be announced in this publication. Ask to meet your elected director or general manager. Talk to the member services manager to get tips on energy efficiency programs. Electric co-ops are member service oriented businesses. Come in and get to know us so you can be involved in all your electric co-op has to offer.

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