Rural America – a small town family

The following are excerpts from comments made by Phil Carson, NRECA board president and director at Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Inc., Mt. Vernon,  as he addressed attendees of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) annual meeting on March 12.

I come from a small town. I don’t know if you remember the lyrics of the John Cougar Mellencamp song, Small Town, but I liked that song. I’m a small-town guy. In fact, I even live outside of a small town. I don’t live in a small town, but outside of a small town in rural Illinois. It’s a town of a hundred people. I’m rural. I’m country. And I suspect most of you can relate to that. I love it. I know you love it. That’s where we live and where we serve.

I asked myself what three things I wanted to reinforce in your minds. They’re not new, but I think they’re important and apply to all of us.

Number one, we are family. The NRECA is a family from 47 different states, 900 cooperatives, 42 million Americans served, and we’re family. We agree on many things, but we don’t agree on everything. Our diversity almost guarantees there are going to be challenges. We have never agreed on everything. We don’t today, and we won’t in the future, but we’d better figure a way through it.

Because of our diversity, different views, past debates, and past compromises, we’ve always been able to come to an understanding. The issues of energy and the environment, and greenhouse gas emissions are on the table again, and I suspect they will be for the foreseeable future.

How do we get through this? The same way we’ve always done it. We speak honestly to each other, listen carefully and debate respectfully. Then we find common ground and move forward. That’s the way we get through it and remain family.

Secondly, we are facilitators. Our communities do not exist for the sake of our cooperatives. Our cooperatives exist for the sake of our communities. Our communities come first. That’s why we’re here.

As electric cooperatives, we facilitate the quality of life in our communities. It’s not electricity first. That happened to be the way we did it, but we facilitate the quality of life in our communities in rural America where we live, serve and love. That’s why we were formed and exist, for homes, schools and businesses, to bring electricity and make good things happen. We are facilitators.

If someone asked the question, do our communities need broadband? My answer is yes. I think the electric cooperative at a minimum is to be a cheerleader encouraging it because we know our communities need it. It may be as a minor partner or perhaps an equity owner, but our communities need broadband. We are facilitators of the quality of life in our rural areas.

The last thing that I want to leave with you is please tend to the fundamentals. Fundamentals are our governance. It’s how we behave, conduct and discipline ourselves. Electric cooperatives are so important to our communities that we must not stumble over the fundamentals. We must not get tripped up over governance issues. We must not destroy the trust that our member-owners have placed in us.

In the last stanza of the John Cougar Mellencamp song Small Town the lyrics say: “Well, I was born in a small town, and I can breathe in a small town. I’m going to die in this small town. And that’s probably where they’ll bury me.” That’s probably going to be true for me. Small town America, rural America, countryside America. We all love it. I love it. You love it.