More than 600 electric cooperative communicators, member services representatives and marketing specialists will head to CONNECT in Houston next month to share new and better ways of bringing value to their members’ lives.

“Trust has always been important to our success as electricity providers and community builders,” said Scott Peterson, NRECA’s senior vice president for communications. “As our co-ops are called upon to help their communities set and achieve new goals, maintaining that trust and building it with new co-op members is more essential than ever.”

The annual conference, May 7-9, is jointly sponsored by NRECA and the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives® network that now serves more than 730 electric co-ops in 46 states.

“Living in affordable and appealing communities is increasingly important to our members,” said Lynn Moore, executive director of Touchstone Energy. “Electric co-ops understand this need and are playing key roles in ensuring that our communities embrace those characteristics and provide lifestyle opportunities that meet their members’ expectations.”

Making Main Streets Matter

Tuesday’s morning general session will highlight small-town revitalization efforts. “Creative placemaking” advocate Zach Mannheimer of McClure Engineering in Des Moines, Iowa, will discuss creating community spaces that attract and sustain commercial districts, and Josh Nowell and Jim and Mallorie Rasberry of the Laurel Mercantile Company will talk about rallying community support for downtown revitalization, based on their work in Laurel, Mississippi, that’s featured on the HGTV series “Home Town.”

“Co-op-served communities can and should offer goods and services that meet the needs of local residents,” said Moore. “They can also be destinations that capture the imaginations of those from distant communities by offering something unique or interesting.”

Doing More for Members

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson; NRECA President Curtis Wynn, CEO of Ahoskie, North Carolina-based Roanoke Electric Cooperative; and Walters, Oklahoma-based Cotton Electric Cooperative CEO Jennifer Meason will explore the future of electric cooperatives in the afternoon general session on May 8.

“Whether we talk with members by telephone, across a service center counter or communicate with them through online tools, our messaging must be clear and consistent with their interest in the cooperative,” said Peterson. “Co-op leaders are joining conference attendees in Houston because communication plays such a central role in our overall success.”

CONNECT participants will get firsthand updates on how co-ops and public power districts are using the National Survey on the Cooperative Difference research, provided by Touchstone Energy, as well as language and concepts developed as part of NRECA’s Lexicon Project.

Enhanced focus is also being placed on governance communications, transparency, reputation management, engaging young members, and the most effective ways to provide services preferred by members committed to getting the most out of their utility-connected homes.

Other sessions will encourage development and execution of political engagement strategies, said Amy Lewis, deputy director of the Action Committee for Rural Electrification, adding that ACRE® now has more than 35,000 contributing members.

“ACRE supports candidates that support electric cooperatives,” said Lewis. “Our goal is to grow our membership to 40,000 members by 2020 to increase our impact.”

There will also be technical skills development workshops on social media, newsletter and visual media production, internal communications and data analysis, said Tracey Steiner, NRECA’s senior vice president for education and training. “We’ve put together an agenda that corresponds with the wide variety of skills and knowledge areas that co-op communicators and member services professionals need to be most effective today.”

Inspiring Service

The conference program will close with a keynote by entrepreneur and illusionist Vinh Giang on how creating and cultivating the right influence in our lives can make the difference between success and mediocrity.

A CONNECT conference app will be used to “crowd-source” roundtable discussions scheduled for May 9, when users will be able to decide on topics and determine the issues covered.

CONNECT attendees are encouraged to spend part of the conference’s first day assembling hygiene kits and writing notes of encouragement for veterans at Houston’s DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as part of the commitment to community service project facilitated by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.

NRECA and Touchstone Energy are partnering with Operation: Veteran Smiles, an organization run by a former Youth Tour participant.