COLUMBUS, Ohio—As electric cooperatives face a future filled with everything from broadband and distributed energy resources to market pressures and challenges not yet imagined, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said co-ops have three strengths to draw from.

"Changing technologies, changing consumers, changing markets, changing politics. When it comes to all of those changes, it's important for us to think about how do we adapt?" Matheson told more than 740 co-op leaders at the first of NRECA's 2018 Regional Meetings.

He stressed that meeting those challenges means "changing tactics—but in no way should we be changing our values." In fact, he said the cooperative model and principles "puts us in an excellent position to address all of these changing circumstances."

Opening the Regions 1 & 4 meeting on Sept. 6, Matheson said the three core strengths are "all based on solid, meaningful relationships." And, he added, "relationships are fundamentally based on trust. It's all about trust."

The first strength Matheson addressed is the one co-ops have with their consumer-members, who he said will have "a much more significant role in making decisions that determine the future of the electric industry."

Being consumer-owned puts co-ops in a fine position, but Matheson asked leaders whether they're effectively communicating co-op values and principles.

"It's only going to put us in that great position if consumers fully appreciate what it means to be part of a co-op," he said, noting NRECA's lexicon research found that using the word "community" resonates with consumer-members.

The second strength Matheson addressed is the relationships each of the more than 900 electric co-ops have with one another and their strategic partners.

Given the volume and pace of changes facing co-ops, Matheson said it's "all the more important that we leverage the relationships we have across the co-op network, to learn from each other to efficiently meet new opportunities and challenges."

Finally, Matheson spoke of co-ops' political strength, which he said is "based on strong relationships with policymakers."

"Those relationships are based on trust. Trust that we know what we're talking about, trust that we offer credible, accurate information, and trust that we are consumer organizations who are a true voice for our communities," said Matheson.

Noting the lack of trust many Americans have in institutions today, Matheson said co-ops can rise above it.

"The way that we can distinguish ourselves in that type of environment is pretty simple: We show integrity."