Annual Meeting Celebrates All Aspects of “Member Driven”
When NRTC unveiled a new logo a few years ago, current NRTC Board Chairman Tim Mergen confesses that he didn’t like it. He preferred capital letters for acronyms, not lower-case. But as he said during the NRTC Annual Meeting’s electric cooperative session today in Nashville, the logo has grown on him.
“I have learned to embrace that new logo, and more importantly, I celebrate the tagline, and the words ‘member driven.’ Those two words have really become the rallying cry and a unifying force for all of NRTC,” said Mergen, CEO and GM of Meeker Cooperative Light & Power Association in Minnesota. He and CEO Tim Bryan made that tagline the focus of the annual meeting.
Bryan shared a video of various NRTC employees explaining what member-driven means to them. He especially praised one employee observation – “It’s not just a phrase. It’s engrained in every action that we do.” He pointed to ways that NRTC applies the member-driven philosophy to technology solutions.
- NRTC has done 225 broadband feasibility studies for its members and currently is working on “at least two dozen” more. They provide unbiased, truthful analysis of what technologies and business practices will work for each member.
- At the same time, NRTC is using electronic design to improve the network construction. “We feel like it is the quickest, it is the most cost-effective way for cooperatives to build broadband networks,” Bryan said. Smart design will save through efficient construction material purchases and better building plans. It allows broadband providers to broaden the use of data to maintain “a long-term record of this truly generational asset that you’re building,” he said.
- NRTC has created a team dedicated to helping members seeking broadband funding through the many programs the government has created in the past year. Rather than distribution directly from the federal government, states will be conducting many of these programs. “NRTC has spent considerable time and attention to follow the activities in every state where our member are located, so that when funding opportunities appear, we’re there to help our members and make sure they can apply,” Bryan said.
- One of the best features NRTC Mobile Solutions offers is access to affordable devices for rural communities to access modern wireless networks. That includes some specialty devices and a back-office system that can accommodate special services. For instance, Gabb Wireless offers phones that help parents stay connected to children, aged 8 to 18. “We went to work with Gabb in our back office and devised solutions,” Bryan said. “By working with NRTC, a company like Gabb can take an idea and make it a reality.”
- Building on the success of the broadband feasibility studies, NRTC has taken the same concept to smart grid technologies. Like the feasibility studies, NRTC is looking at co-ops’ goals, population densities, local terrain and other unique technical and business factors to plan AMI, demand management, renewable energy projects and others. “We just launched this late last year and we figured we’ll get a handful of cooperatives … early adopters. Maybe five or six,” he said. “We’re at 18 now and the list continues to grow on an almost weekly basis.”
And then there is the human aspect of member driven – simple friendliness and a place in the nationwide rural community. Bryan told the story of how an NRTC employee manning a call center in Alabama for an Oklahoma member providing broadband service was able to help save one family’s Thanksgiving. “The cooperative spirit in action,” Bryan said.
This was the second time that Mergen and Bryan gave this presentation, with the first being during the annual meeting for telco members in February. “We serve all of our members. We’re member driven for everybody, electrics and telcos,” Bryan said.
We have posted a full recording of the annual meeting below.