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TEC Managers and Directors Conference Highlights

January 20, 2017

Forty-six members attended TEC's 44th annual Managers Conference held Dec. 7–9, 2016, and 167 united at the 17th annual Directors Conference on Jan. 16–18. Programming included board leadership classes, industry updates and networking opportunities.

Jody Severson, an instructor for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, taught directors how to handle negative member interactions in Conversation Skills Outside the Boardroom. "Members own the business. There's no such thing as an unfair question," he said. Severson asked pressing hypothetical questions to several directors and used an iPhone to record their responses. He then played them back and gave pointers on how those conversations could have been better crafted. On the subject of sometimes-sensitive matters such as compensation or rate increases, Severson said these conversations could be turned into opportunities to educate members about power-supply costs.

Also during the conferences, managers and directors were reminded that more electric cooperative employees are eligible for retirement now than ever before. Co-ops across the country are looking for their next-generation workforce, but the turnover of younger employees can be challenging, said Blaine Warzecha, general manager of Victoria Electric Cooperative, during the session, A Partnership that Meets the Needs of the Co-op and Community, at the TEC Directors Conference. He said that this is especially true of lineman hires. "When they got to that training field, they lasted a day or two and they were done," he said. Victoria EC partnered with Victoria College to launch a lineman-training program to prepare linemen before they're hired. Seven men and one woman completed the program's first-ever, level-one semester this past fall.

Another highlight from the conferences included a session presented by representatives of cooperative internet consulting firm Conexon, who noted that many homes in rural America don't have access to true high-speed internet. Publicly traded companies such as AT&T and Comcast have little interest in building out the network for rural areas. Some electric cooperative leaders think they can fill the gap, just as co-ops did with electricity service more than 80 years ago. Randy Klindt of OzarksGo and Jonathan Chambers of Conexon presented Broadband: Improving Members' Lives in the 21st Century at the conferences. Chambers stressed how broadband will shape the future of rural America: "As your grandkids grow up and move away and discover they can do more because of the internet, they're not going to want to move back."