Boyette was tasked by Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) to develop an economic development strategy on behalf of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas (ECA) that includes overall economic development recommendations related to the advancement of community development in Arkansas and enhanced competitive economic development practices.
A few miles shy of traveling the equivalent of driving from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, Boyette met with the leadership of each of the 17 electric distribution cooperatives (cooperatives) and AECC that represent the ECA. These discussions were essential to establishing the tone and theme of this strategy as well as gaining significant insight from key stakeholders. Stated by one thought leader, “The cooperatives are in the life improvement business not simply the electricity business,” this notion was reiterated by each mile driven. With each conversation, Boyette quickly realized that the core values of ECA such as trust, accountability, member engagement, responsiveness, community commitment, transparency and responsibility are personified by electric cooperative stakeholders in all corners of the state. These values are harmonious with successful economic development organizations throughout the United States and provide a definitive competitive advantage for Arkansas.
The “white hat” mentality of ECA creates significant community and economic development goodwill throughout the state resulting in countless stories regarding the electric cooperatives and their steadfast leadership in communities. Continually rising above daily work tasks to aide communities both in and out of their service territory, the cooperatives provide community assistance as wide-reaching as positioning utility poles and replacing light bulbs in baseball fields and being the leading fundraiser for community events such as Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society event to assisting large industrial members with expansions that create jobs and increased capital investment.
The cooperatives have long been the torchbearer for community improvement and innovation. Paramount technological accomplishments span a long list of firsts beginning with the first electric utility pole installed in Jacksonville by First Electric Cooperative in 1937, the first and Arkansas’ largest solar energy field installation by AECC and Ouachita Electric Cooperative and the first electric utility in the state, Ozark Electric Cooperative, to offer high-speed internet, television and telephone services through a subsidiary wholly, OzarksGo. Moreover, as proactive, innovative change agents, ECA maximizes resources and relationships for the benefit of rural members, an often marginalized population within the state.
To increase community support and to cultivate an atmosphere of increased economic improvement, this strategy was formulated by conducting a capabilities assessment of ECA from an economic development perspective, gathering internal and external stakeholder input, presenting benchmark research around the economic development function of other relatable organizations, which included evaluating competitiveness and identification of differentiating programs, and developing recommendations in the areas of delivery system, product development, business recruitment and retention, marketing, sustainability and conservation initiatives, and building quality of life. The implementation of the supporting action items under each strategy will propel ECA as the sought-after community resource and an economic development trailblazer as these creative strategies guide the economic development direction of ECA cooperatives through the next five years.