America’s electric cooperatives and public power districts provide electricity and other services to nearly 2.7 million commercial and industrial (C&I) members.
The vast majority of these accounts are small local or regional businesses with little recognition outside their territory or industry. Many, however, are internationally known brands whose iconic products and services can trace at least a portion of their success back to the dependable power and member focus of an electric cooperative.
“Because of their local nature, cooperatives are able to provide customized solutions for these companies that help them strengthen their businesses,” says Brian Sloboda, NRECA’s director of consumer solutions. “It’s a big advantage for a company to be located on co-op lines.”
And the benefits of these co-op/C&I relationships go both ways. Co-op-served businesses account for seven of every 50 jobs in rural communities and more than 20% of wages earned by rural residents. And they are often regular supporters of local civic organizations, co-op charitable foundations, youth programs and other initiatives.
“Commercial and industrial customers don’t just provide dependable load and jobs in co-op-served areas,” Sloboda says. “Their development work through the co-ops and their civic-mindedness can really help shape the rural communities they call home.”
If you’ve driven, purchased or just dreamt about a new Corvette since 1981, it was built using co-op power. The only plant in the world producing America’s premier sports car gets its electricity from Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. The distribution co-op has powered the plant since General Motors geared up production at the facility 41 years ago. Since then, more than 1 million vehicles have been built there.
“They are one of our leading commercial and industrial accounts,” says Dewayne McDonald, Warren RECC’s president and CEO. “They are one of our service territory’s top corporate citizens. The plant has truly changed the face of our community, building a local car culture and investing substantially here over the years. We’re very proud to have them as a member.”
GM’s operations in the co-op’s service territory are expected exceed $10 billion in economic impact over the next decade. The plant’s workforce totals more than 1,400 employees and supports nearly 2,900 additional local jobs.
Warren RECC and GM are now working with the Tennessee Valley Authority on development of 175 megawatts of solar power and energy storage to support GM and regional server operations for Meta Platforms Inc.
General Motors is “a tremendous asset to the region,” says Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Bunch.
He notes that the plant’s economic impact includes $100 million in wages annually and contributes $15 million to the region’s revenue.
“They are an integral part of our commonwealth’s thriving economy, and we look forward to many more years of their success in our community.”
When two veterans of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division returned from World War II, they bought a ranch on Colorado’s Eagle-Vail Valley. By the early 1960s, that ranch was building a global reputation as a top ski resort. And the electric power that helped turn it into a year-round tourism destination is still provided by Holy Cross Energy.
The co-op serves the hotels, condominiums, bars and restaurants visited by about 750,000 tourists each year. HCE has also spent decades working with resort designers, developers and operators to improve snow-making technology and enhance sustainability and energy efficiency.
“Holy Cross Energy sees a significant increase in Vail Resort’s energy usage during the winter months, when their demand is upwards of 30 megawatts,” says Jenna Weatherred, vice president of member and community relations. “That’s particularly true when they’re using their snow-making systems.”
As a year-round destination, Vail Resorts represents the largest demand on the co-op’s system, so they collaborate with the resort operators on sustainability and energy efficiency projects.
“We helped with upgrades to their snowmaking equipment that improved efficiency by more than 85%,” Weatherred says. “The project included 19 miles of pipeline connecting 421 new snow guns and required 19 new transformers.”
“Holy Cross’s forward-thinking demand response and energy-efficiency programs have supported our investments in reducing energy demand and improving operations at Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek resorts,” says John-Ryan Lockman, the resorts’ environmental sustainability manager. “Additionally, their leading renewable electricity supply goals will ensure these resorts can operate on clean electricity in the near future.”
Duck River Electric Membership Corp.’s oldest commercial account already had a 70-year reputation for turning out famed Tennessee sippin’ whiskey when the co-op signed it up for service. Since the Jack Daniel Distillery was first wired for electric lighting in 1936, DREMC has been a trusted consultant and adviser on modernization and expansion projects.
Jack Daniel’s has built a worldwide reputation as the top-selling American whiskey. The company is the largest employer in the Lynchburg, Tennessee, area, and its facilities draw about 300,000 visitors a year.
“The tourism generated by the Jack Daniel’s brand, and the employment opportunities provided, makes them a tremendous asset to the community,” Spence says.
When the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic spiked the need for electric bill assistance from the co-op’s Project HELP fund, the distillery made a sizable contribution to help co-op members pay their bills.
“That’s helped us continue to support members in the Lynchburg community through these challenging times,” Spence says.
The distillery’s leaders say that DREMC has helped them reach their production targets and broader goals.
“Our commitment to making great whiskey is only matched by our commitment to preserving the world we call home through sustainable practices,” says Melvin Keebler, Jack Daniel’s vice president and assistant general manager. “We’re excited to be the first distillery to sign a Green Invest deal that will provide nearly three-quarters of our electricity needs. Now the world’s most iconic whiskey is even greener.”
Turkey demand may peak between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, but it’s not just for holidays anymore.
Turkey consumption has more than doubled over the past 50 years, and Americans now consume about 15 pounds of the poultry each year. Butterball LLC is the leading U.S. producer of turkey products, accounting for about 1.3 billion pounds of the nearly 6 billion pounds produced each year.
“Tri-County EMC has served the Butterball processing plant in Mount Olive, North Carolina, since 1985,” says Mike Davis, general manager at Tri-County Electric Membership Corp. “We also serve many farms in our service area that produce turkeys for Butterball.”
The Mount Olive Butterball plant employs about 2,700 workers.
North Carolina is a leading agricultural state, ranked second and third in the nation for turkey and hog production, respectively. Co-op-served areas in Duplin County also host facilities for Smithfield Foods and other specialty brands. And local plants and distribution facilities supply processed products for leading restaurant chains, says Carrie Shields, executive director of the Duplin County Economic Development Commission.
“Food doesn’t come from a grocery store,” Shields says. “It comes from a farmer, who grows or raises it and gets it to the grocery store so you can take it home.”
Area food processors and their producers have pursued several co-op-supported sustainability initiatives, including organic farming practices and the introduction of anaerobic digesters that can produce energy or feedstocks from animal waste. Tri-County has also consulted with Butterball and other producers on plant expansions and modernization projects.
“Tri-County EMC, with help from staff from North Carolina Electric Membership Corp., has worked with Butterball and other companies regularly over the years on various projects designed to improve energy efficiency at their processing plants,” Davis says. “We also partner with many of our C&I members on various initiatives supporting local schools in the Tri-County EMC service territory.”
LODGE CAST IRON
Nearly 45 years after a family in south central Tennessee began selling kitchen essentials made from coal-fired forges, they signed up for service from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, joining employees and neighbors to bring electricity to their communities.
“Lodge Cast Iron has been a good corporate citizen from the beginning,” says Mike Partin, Sequachee Valley’s president and CEO.
R.L. Lodge, the company’s founder, was the first chairman of the co-op’s board of directors and was directly involved in signing up valley families and their mountain neighbors for electric service to their homes and farms.
Years later, when the company electrified its furnaces and expanded foundry space by 127,000 square feet, SVEC built a new substation to handle Lodge’s demand for power. With pre-seasoned cookware developed in 2002 and enameled cookware introduced three years later, Lodge has developed its global brand, with 10% of its production exported.
“They are putting in new production lines needed to move production of their very popular enameled cast iron cookware from China to South Pittsburg. In 2013 the company introduced the Lodge Seasoned Carbon Steel line of skillets that are made in the United States and seasoned at the Lodge foundry,” says Partin, adding that the co-op works closely with the company on energy efficiency projects, including plant modernization and conversion of its forklift fleet to electric vehicle technology.
SVEC staff and many of Lodge’s 550 employees work together at the National Cornbread Festival, which draws 25,000 visitors a year. And the company is redesigning its downtown outlet store to include an interactive Cast Iron Museum, says Lodge President Mike Otterman.
“The world’s largest cast iron skillet is highly ‘Instagramable,’” Otterman says. “We want to make South Pittsburg the epicenter of the cast iron collectors’ world.”
Harley Davidsons are arguably the most popular motorcycles in the United States. They’re also the most likely to see aftermarket modifications. And that’s where renowned performance leader S&S Cycle comes in.
Based in rural Viola, Wisconsin, since 1963, S&S has grown from a racing parts side hustle to the absolute leader in V-twin performance. And they’ve done it all with power from Richland Electric Cooperative.
“About 200 people work at S&S, so it is one of our area’s larger employers,” says Shannon Clark, the co-op’s CEO and general manager. “Many of these employees have come from the smaller dairy farms that have been disappearing due to the tough small agricultural economy.”
Computer-assisted machinery throughout the 124,000-square-foot facility is used to produce engine parts, air cleaners, exhaust components and replacement engines. All of these require precision engineering to ensure the high performance that motorcycle enthusiasts expect.
The co-op has served as an energy adviser on efficiency projects like conversion from piston-driven to screw-air compressors, which helped control production costs. Fluorescent light fixtures in the plant are being replaced with energy-saving LEDs.
“As robotics and computer-aided equipment have become the norm for manufacturing, we see power quality as even more essential to their operation,” Clark says. “We’re only a 10-megawatt system, and S&S accounts for nearly 10% of our load. Richland EC has developed and implemented systems to help meet their needs.”
Alec Leavitt, S&S’s chief financial officer, says the company has benefited from the personal service they get from the co-op.
“The high-tech nature of our manufacturing facility demands a high-quality, reliable power source, and we have found Richland Electric to be a true partner in supporting our business in the past, present and future,” he says.
The plant often operates on two shifts, and the company’s research and development team and competitive racing teams also operate from the facility. That work is conducted with robotic driven dynamometer testing machines to help measure and refine performance.
And the company’s commitment to communities in western Wisconsin runs deep, says Clark, noting that youth programs, STEM education and health care are among the initiatives sparking collaboration.
“S&S has supported hundreds of community organizations and events that align with the same values as Richland EC.”
In 2004, developers were looking toward future opportunities along the Interstate 65 corridor linking Indianapolis to Chicago. Farmland in Boone County, Indiana, offered great prospects for mixed-use development. The results now include AllPoints at Anson, a 616-acre industrial park, and Brooks Running Co. is one of its major tenants.
Located in Whitestown, Indiana, the entire site is served by Boone REMC. With rail access and loads of parking for intermodal logistics and distribution, the facility landed Amazon as its first tenant in 2006. Coca Cola, Daimler Trucks North America and Brooks were among the firms that followed.
“The developer has worked closely with us to make sure that new businesses can receive the Power Moves rebates we offer to encourage energy efficiency,” says Corey Willis, Boone REMC’s vice president of corporate development and technology. “We have given $1.1 million in Power Moves rebates to our commercial members since 2010.”
For Brooks Running Co., which has been making and distributing athletic and performance footwear and recreational apparel since 1914, $25,000 in rebates helped defray the cost of interior lighting, including LED lights and occupancy sensors.
Upgrades and responsive service from the co-op have helped Brooks and other companies attract and keep good employees, creating jobs for people in central Indiana, including members of electric co-ops.
In fact, “Whitestown has been the fastest growing city in Indiana for nine of the past 10 years,” Willis says.
“Our proximity to Indianapolis and location along I-65 between Indianapolis and Chicago makes Boone County a natural choice for logistics companies,” says Molly Whitehead, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corp. “We have diversified over the years to focus on manufacturing and research opportunities, including in the ag-bioscience and motorsports industries. We’re fortunate to have the location and workforce in Boone County to support many types of businesses.”