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RUS Administrator Visits Bartlett Electric Cooperative

May 28, 2014

(Bartlett, TX) U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator John Padalino and National Rural Electric Cooperatives Board President Curtis Nolan visited Bartlett Electric Cooperative headquarters in Bartlett May 28 for "Cooperative Purpose 101," a workshop for BEC employees to explore their connection to the past and future. Mary Saage, daughter-in-law of the owners of the first home energized by the co-op on March 7, 1936, made a special appearance during the daylong training.

"Rural Electrification is a great example of how private and public partnerships can exist to make a meaningful difference," said Padalino. " For almost 80 years the RUS and electric co-ops, like BEC, have successfully changed the landscape of rural America, and today's workshop shows our job is not done. 

The workshop, facilitated by statewide trade association Texas Electric Cooperatives, aims to make electric cooperatives' rich heritage relevant and useful to modern employees. "That legacy is especially tangible for Bartlett Electric Cooperative, which was one of the first U.S. co-ops funded under the Rural Electrification Administration to deliver electricity to a rural home in 1936," said Bryan Lightfoot, general manager/CEO of BEC.

Padalino's visit showed how cooperatives continue to work with the RUS, formerly the REA, not just to provide electricity, but to improve quality of life in communities they serve. He has compared rural America of about 80 years ago with today. In the 1930s, progress and quality of life had fallen behind cities because investor-owned electric utilities would not extend service to rural areas. That is where member-owned, nonprofit electric cooperatives stepped in to shine.

Today, rural areas are experiencing a population decline, salary disparity and job loss, according to a Department of Agriculture report, "Rural America at a Glance." Rural America is becoming less and less relevant, Padalino said, but explained that the cooperative business model allows for cooperatives to make a difference today just as they did decades ago.

In a report released last year, NRECA defined the electric cooperative purpose: to power communities and empower members to improve the quality of their members' lives.

"Across the nation, co-ops are reconnecting with their purpose," said Nolan, "and by understanding that what we do improves the quality of life for our members gives the next generation of co-op employees the inspiration to make a difference in the world today, just as others in this great program did nearly 80 years ago."

Through "Cooperative Purpose 101," Bartlett Electric Cooperative employees explored how co-ops' original task of delivering electricity was about more than light. It was about the cooperative purpose, which is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago when the first electrified member of Bartlett EC turned on a light in a farmhouse.

Texas Electric Cooperatives is an Austin-based statewide trade association serving the needs of 74 electric cooperative members across the state. 

Bartlett Electric Cooperative was organized in 1935 and serves 8,005 members in Bell, Williamson, Milam and Burleson counties.