Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TOP STORY >> 75th anniversary for First Electric

Leader staff writer

First Electric Cooperative, the first nonprofit power utility in the state, will celebrate 75 years of tremendous growth from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday in its Jacksonville community room at 1000 S. J.P. Wright Loop Road.

The nonprofit was incorporated on April 26, 1937, as the first electric cooperative in Arkansas under the Rural Electrification Act. There are now 17 cooperatives in the state.

The first power lines began operating on April 15, 1938, near Jacksonville.

First Electric started out with three employees and 150 customers.

Now, it caters to more than 88,000 active accounts in 17 central and southeast Arkansas counties.

First Electric employs more than 225 people, said Tonya Everhart, vice president of marketing and communications.

Full-service offices are located in Jacksonville, Benton, Heber Springs, Perryville and Stuttgart.

According to the company’s website, most of First Electric’s customers, about 21,300, live in Saline County.

Lonoke County comes in second with approximately 19,250.

About 12,500 live in Pulaski and about 7,100 are in White County.

But customers aren’t customers. They are members.

Everhart explained that at the end of each year, members are sent whatever money First Electric gets that isn’t needed for operating expenditures. That budget is based on an average over several previous years.

The money that is returned to members is called capital credits. A check is mailed if the money the member is getting back is more than $20.

If the amount is less than that, members get a credit on their bills.

At Thursday’s event, there will be a drawing for a $75 bill credit at each of the five offices. Members can register to win that.

Anyone who attends can watch a short film on the organization’s history, a look at memorabilia, comments by President/CEO Don Crabbe and Chairman Robert Hill, a proclamation by Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, posting of the colors by the Cabot High School Air Force Junior ROTC and a musical performance by REAL Entertaining.

First Electric has experienced many transitions since the ‘30s.

Everhart said, “You’re going to get a different response from everyone in the organization — depending on what their job is and what their task is — about what has been the biggest improvement or changes in our organization. You can go from everything where somebody in accounting might say it’s the computers that came about that significantly changed how they do their job. Because there is a lady in our accounting department that has been here since the 70s and she remembers when they had the mainframes. They had one large computer that would take care of that. Today, everyone has the personal computer they work from.

“For the servicemen, or for the lineman, it might be that they went from setting a pole by hand to now to having a digger truck and everything they have to have to do their job.

“Or for the marketing department, we work with the (Arkansas Electric Cooperative Association) to produce our statewide magazine. We found these old plates. We went from printing plates to doing everything digital.

“Or that we went from having meter readers go out to read all of our meters to going to the digital readers. The information is sent back to our system so we don’t have to send the meter readers out. It’s more accurate. It makes us more efficient.

“With cooperatives it’s about doing our job as efficiently and effectively as possible because with the cooperative, at the end of the day, it’s about the capital credits we turn back to our members.

The one thing that has remained the same over the 75 years is our commitment to our membership. We are service-driven, not profit driven.”

Everhart said First Electric will continue to provide the same, reliable, affordable service to its members for the next 75 years.

“How it may be provided to them may be different. Will it be through coal, or natural gas or renewable energy source? Whatever it may be we want to do what’s best for our membership,” she said.