Forging Ahead

Posted: December 3, 2020, 12:00 am

WEC continues investment in members and community despite challenges

Ashford office Member Services Representative and Lead Cashier Teresa Womack assists members during a summer office visit.

In 2020, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative triumphed over several challenges and continued to invest heavily in its members and their communities.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted normal business operations, canceled some area events, and altered others. Yet progress continued at WEC, which funded the creation of a manufacturing facility, promoted economic development in various ways, supported local charities, and continued improving the power grid — all while providing highly rated service to its members.

“This year offered plenty of disruptions, but our No. 1 priority is serving our members well,” WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro says. “We accomplish this with our goal of remaining safe on the job as well as focusing on our motto of ‘Just Enough Isn’t Enough.’ We aim to make great decisions that strengthen our area now and for years to come.”

Economic Investments

WEC has always supported economic growth initiatives locally. Several employees serve on economic and workforce development councils, and the Hartford headquarters serves as a meeting space for Grow Dothan and Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development Council initiatives.

In August, several local officials broke ground on a speculative manufacturing facility that aims to attract a major employer to the area. WEC helped fund the construction of the building.

In August, the cooperative made one of its largest singular contributions to the economy as ground broke on a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the Geneva County Industrial Park in Hartford. A financial partnership between WEC, its power provider PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the Geneva County Commission made construction possible.

By October, several companies expressed interest in touring the building as a potential new operating location. The facility should be completed by the end of January 2021.

“If you build it, they will come,” says Ronnie Davis, Wiregrass RC&D executive director. “South Alabama is now a very interesting place for manufacturers because of this building.”

Elsewhere, the Broadband for the Wiregrass partnership between WEC and Troy Cable landed another state grant in April, a $1.38 million award that will allow expansion of high-speed internet options to another 1,190 homes and businesses in the area by June 2022.

The partnership continues to seek federal and state funding for broadband expansion, applying for major funding from the recently created Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Community Investments

Dothan office Member Services Representative/Lead Cashier Lynn Boyd cleans a pay kiosk in order to keep members safe.

In addition to economic initiatives, WEC made several community investments in 2020 — many after the coronavirus spurred an economic crunch for individuals, families, and businesses.

At the onset of the pandemic, WEC’s Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation made contributions of $1,000 each to the Geneva County Food Pantry and the Wiregrass Area Food Bank. The cooperative also donated food to The Ark, a ministry in downtown Dothan.

ORU also made a $10,090.94 donation to the Ashford High School band program, a $5,500 gift to the Samson High School basketball program, and a $2,500 to an Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine rural clinic.

ORU continued to partner with WTVY-TV to highlight the Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass with $1,000 grants, and WEC continued to recognize other unsung community contributors through the Teacher of the Month program and the football Lineman of the Week effort. WTVY-FM assists in the teacher spotlights, while WOOF Radio’s “The Ball” aids in the linemen presentations.

Membership Investments

WEC continued its strong commitment to member services despite the unique problems triggered by the coronavirus.

Member services representatives used longstanding policies to assist members encountering hardship and earned high scores on a pandemic response survey. And to protect the health of members, the WEC board of trustees implemented a virtual annual meeting, reducing the crowds that congregate at a traditional annual meeting.

During the 2020 annual meeting, members approved a change in the bylaws to allow cooperative leadership — at its sole discretion — to apply earned capital credits to delinquent accounts. This move further enhances WEC’s ability to respond to emergencies.

“Our ability to perform as well as we do is based on the commitment of our employees, the vision of our board and leadership, and the heart of our members,” Kimbro says.

WEC also made a couple of significant investments in the electrical grid during the year.

Before 2020, about 220 homes in the Kinsey area of Houston County received power through connections located in the backyards of the residences. This arrangement created logistical challenges, such as fences that prevented easy access for WEC linemen.

Following a thorough plan, WEC employees relocated distribution lines onto the Town of Kinsey’s right of way. Then, connections to homes were buried, protecting them from winds and falling limbs.

WEC also improved the grid when it opened a new substation in the Fadette community in Geneva County, allowing the cooperative to retire an older substation in Slocomb.

Elsewhere, the cooperative unveiled a redesigned website in mid-November that proves to be more organized, easier to use, and more visually appealing.

“As we do every year, we made significant strides in a variety of areas,” Kimbro says. “We endeavor daily to be good stewards of the resources our members entrust to us. We aim for an even better year in 2021.”