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Powerful Economic Development & Business Partners

Publicly owned utilities have always been deeply involved in economic development.

Q1 2017
The best deals are the ones in which everyone wins. Across the country, public power utilities have established countless partnerships through which businesses, utilities, and their communities have come out ahead — like the deal struck between the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) in Florida and the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The utility was part of a partnership of local entities that joined forces to welcome USTA’s headquarters to Orlando — the complex is the nation’s largest tennis center, with dozens of courts.

OUC is an active participant in recruiting high-impact projects such as the USTA facility. Beyond providing economic development rates, OUC agreed to partner with the USTA on designing and implementing sustainable building practices. The partnership agreement allows promotional rights for the utility, including branding rights on sustainability assets and great opportunities to educate the public about conservation and energy efficiency.

And how about the mutually beneficial deal that several years ago created the Pecan Street project in Austin, Texas? Austin Energy was a founding partner, along with the City of Austin, The University of Texas, the Austin Technology Incubator, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the Environmental Defense Fund. The initiative was intended to spark the “smart grid” market and tap the area’s technology expertise to jumpstart innovation related to sustainable energy.

Such intentions have clear and dramatic economic development implications, given the job-creation promise linked to sustainable energy. That’s obviously good for the community, and what’s good for the community is a high priority for any public power utility. But operating on the cutting edge of sustainable energy is a potential win for the utility itself, too, given the importance of figuring out how to thrive in a future where the rewards are likely to be tied more to energy efficiency than maximizing the volume of power delivered.

Across the country, public power utilities have established countless partnerships through which businesses, utilities, and their communities have come out ahead — like the

  1. Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC)
    United States Tennis Association (USTA)

    Orlando, FL

    Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) in Florida was part of a partnership of local entities that joined forces to welcome USTA’s $63 million headquarters to Orlando. Beyond providing economic development rates, OUC agreed to partner with the USTA on designing and implementing sustainable building practices.

  2. Austin Energy
    The University of Texas
    Austin Technology Incubator
    Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce
    Environmental Defense Fund

    Austin, TX

    Austin Energy was a founding partner of the Pecan Street project, along with the City of Austin, the University of Texas, the Austin Technology Incubator, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the Environmental Defense Fund. The initiative was intended to spark the “smart grid” market and tap the area’s technology expertise to jumpstart innovation related to sustainable energy.

  3. Mueller community

    Austin, TX

    The Mueller community is a 700-acre former airport redevelopment in central Austin that’s now the world’s largest neighborhood to be Stage 3 LEED-certified and the first in Texas to earn LEED for Neighborhood Development Stage 3 Gold Certification.

  4. Indiana public power city of Lebanon
    Gene Haas Training and Education Center

    Lebanon, IN

    The Indiana public power city of Lebanon was part of a partnership to create the Gene Haas Training and Education Center, a facility including smart classrooms, a lecture hall, a high-tech project collaboration room, and flexible labs for CAD, manufacturing, materials testing, logistics training, and robotics instruction.

  5. Flagship Enterprise Center

    Anderson, IN

    The Flagship Enterprise Center is in another Indiana public power community, Anderson. The business center and incubator initially sprouted as a collaboration between numerous partners responding to the loss of General Motors jobs. Area educational institutions are part of the effort to build a well-prepared workforce. The result of the collaboration has been thousands of jobs at scores of companies.

  6. Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training Program
    Central Educational Center
    Coweta County’s College
    Newnan Utilities

    Newnan, GA

    An unusual collaboration in Georgia has resulted in the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training Program, or GA CATT. The initiative involves the Central Educational Center, Coweta County’s College and Career Academy that has benefited from a nearly two-decades-old partnership with public power provider Newnan Utilities. GA CATT also involves the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States (GACC South), along with local educational representatives and area businesses.

What has blossomed from this partnership has been spectacular. A centerpiece is the Mueller community, a 700-acre former airport redevelopment in central Austin that’s now the world’s largest neighborhood to be Stage 3 LEED-certified and the first in Texas to earn LEED for Neighborhood Development Stage 3 Gold Certification. More than 1,175 single-family homes there have achieved an Austin Energy Green Building rating, which is a nationally recognized rating system that served as a precursor to LEED certification. Hundreds of roofs have solar panels, many of which power electric vehicles.

That’s just a couple of win-win business stories, but the truth be told, positive examples like these aren’t hard to find in public power communities — cities and towns served by not-for-profit utilities that are owned by municipalities or other public entities. That’s not terribly surprising, really. After all, local civic leaders want to see their area’s businesses succeed, and public power utilities are typically on the same team as those local leaders.

Local Control, Local Focus
“One of the things public power has done very well is remain close to its mission,” says Andy Boatright, deputy director at Independence Power & Light in Missouri and chair of the American Public Power Association. That purpose, he says, “is providing reliable, low-cost power to our communities, businesses, and homes; doing it safely; and being responsive in terms of customer service.”

And, Boatright adds, “Doing it in a not-for-profit fashion with local control and governance.” Local control and governance turns out to be a big win for customers — everyone from homeowners to major industrial operations. “When there is an issue or concern, customers know where to turn, ” he says.

They turn to public power representatives who also happen to be neighbors, says Daryl Ingram, senior vice president of External Affairs and Economic Development for ECG (Electric Cities of Georgia). “They live there, work there, go to church there, see people at the grocery store,” he says. Public power representatives are accessible, Ingram notes, and as locals themselves, they’re just as interested in the things that are important to their business customers: “Reliability and cost are very important.”

In fact, adds Boatright, “Oftentimes there are residency requirements that we have to live in the community in which we work. We’re here. People who work in public power are committed to service and ensuring that the lights are on when there is a calamity, ensuring a strong and proper response.”

Tony Cannon, general manager and CEO of Greenville Utilities in North Carolina, agrees: “Being locally owned is a real benefit to our customers. Decisions are made by a board comprised of customers, people who are affected by those decisions. We live in the communities we serve. Policies are created and decisions made with the best interest of our neighbors, customers, and area employers.”

Being a public power agency means that we are constantly working to help our customers save money on their utilities Tony Cannon, general manager, CEO of Greenville Utilities in North Carolina A Common Interest in Business Growth
“The other piece is that they want to grow,” says Ingram. That’s the root of public power utilities’ partnerships with local employers focusing on many of the factors that are most important to businesses deciding where to locate or expand. Cost is, of course, a prime location factor. That’s why projects such as the $63 million USTA facility in Orlando are offered economic development rates for their power. What’s good for the business is good for the community, starting with the 150 jobs connected to the project.

Responsiveness of local representatives is important to businesses, too, and that was one of the keys to another Orlando success story, an Amcor Rigid Plastics’ plant with significant energy requirements. The Orlando Utility Commission put the pedal to the metal to build the infrastructure necessary to deliver five megawatts of power, under a tight deadline. Amcor also offered praise for the utility’s legal department, which partnered on hammering out favorable contract details.

Ingram says public power communities have a natural inclination to be responsive, in part because of the strong ties linking so many of the disparate players involved in helping businesses relocate and grow. The utility is tied to the local government, which helps bring city and county interests onto the same page, along with the local school system and various development authorities. “It’s an alignment of single elements to get everyone in a unified approach, and that works well.”

Workforce Development
A unified approach helps these communities tackle one of the biggest location factors of all, workforce development. Bryan Brackemyre, director of Marketing and Economic Development for the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, can point to numerous examples involving the public power communities that his organization serves. “Many communities are taking a very active approach in upgrading their systems and building relationships with employers,” he says.

The Indiana public power city of Lebanon, for example, was part of a partnership to create the Gene Haas Training and Education Center, a facility including smart classrooms, a lecture hall, a high-tech project collaboration room, and flexible labs for CAD, manufacturing, materials testing, logistics training, and robotics instruction. Training expertise comes from Vincennes University, one of the Midwest’s leading advanced manufacturing educational institutions.

Brackemyre also cites the Flagship Enterprise Center in another Indiana public power community, Anderson. The business center and incubator initially sprouted as a collaboration between numerous partners responding to the loss of General Motors jobs. Area educational institutions are part of the effort to build a well-prepared workforce. The result of the collaboration has been thousands of jobs at scores of companies.

An unusual collaboration in Georgia has resulted in the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training Program, or GA CATT. The initiative involves the Central Educational Center, Coweta County’s College and Career Academy that has benefited from a nearly two-decades-old partnership with public power provider Newnan Utilities. GA CATT also involves the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States (GACC South), along with local educational representatives and area businesses.

The idea is to train students through a German apprenticeship model. Students begin their apprenticeship in 10th grade with a combination of high school classes, college-level manufacturing courses, and paid apprenticeship modules. By their senior year of high school, these students spend 80 percent of their day learning at the manufacturing site and earning $12 per hour.

Public power utilities are able to relate to the workforce needs of area businesses in part because they deal with the same issues. “We know we are challenged in terms of impending retirements,” Boatright points out. Given that, even as they work to help the businesses in their communities succeed, they’re gearing up their own workforce development and recruitment campaigns. In Independence, for example, “we have assembled a pretty strong apprenticeship program.”

Public power’s support of economic development is part of its heritage. Electric Cities of Georgia serves its member communities with a wide range of training opportunities. Says Ingram, “We have soft skills training and DOL-certified apprenticeship programs for linemen. We have ongoing programs in customer service and management training.”

Susan Wheeler, workforce pipeline planning and education relations strategist for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in California, is also heavily involved in career development efforts. A Career Ambassadors program sends representatives into area educational institutions to inspire and inform through career storytelling. The program, she says, helps students learn about career opportunities, both at SMUD and at other local companies. It benefits teachers by giving students more reasons to be engaged in the classroom. And, the utility argues that the program benefits the community by better preparing the workforce and thus strengthening the economy. In the past year, the program was part of about 120 events that reached nearly 50,000 students.

Workforce outreach is certainly paying dividends, across public power communities and within the utilities themselves. Boatright notes that a lot of students don’t initially consider careers in the utility industry, but their interest grows as they learn more about technology advances and increasing emphasis on such areas as sustainability, green power, and energy efficiency. “Technology is playing a greater role than it ever has,” he says. “There is a lot of excitement in our business.”

It’s no secret that a good quality of life is a major driver of workforce development — public power utilities and their affiliated local governments recognize this and involve themselves heavily in trying to have a positive impact. “They’re using that as part of their arsenal to develop an environment that attracts people,” Ingram says. Quality of life attracts new residents, and that, in turn, attracts new employers. “If you’ve got the right kind of people, companies are going to find you.”

A Long History of Economic Development
Public power’s support of economic development is part of its heritage. As Ingram points out, “Cities got into the utility business as an economic development effort. They had to have the infrastructure in place to attract industry.”

In Georgia, for example, most public power communities have provided energy for more than a century. When textile companies moved to the South, communities invested heavily in utility infrastructures to allow for growth and job creation. When many of those companies started expanding overseas, communities adapted and involved their utilities in helping other sectors grow.

Public power utilities are able to relate to the workforce needs of area businesses. Further enabling that flexibility is the fact that a lot of these communities have fully integrated public utilities, offering not just electricity but also gas, water, and sewer services — and increasingly, fiber or other digital telecommunications connections. “All of them are motivated to create this environment for investment,” Ingram says. “The public power community is a unique animal.”

“The fundamental issue is the desire to be aligned with customers’ wishes,” says Boatright. Beyond lower cost and high reliability, those wishes are increasingly including support for energy-efficiency initiatives and sustainability options.

It’s noteworthy, says Cannon of Greenville Utilities, that meeting customer needs frequently means selling less power. “Being a public power agency means that we are constantly working to help our customers save money on their utilities. It gives us the ability and motivation to find solutions that can reduce peak loads for our largest customers and, in return, helps us lower the load we use during times of peak rates. That helps all of our customers save money,” he says. “We are the only business around here I know of that teaches our customers how to spend less money on the products we sell.”

Public power utilities, Boatright says, are laser-focused on serving customers. “Public power is, in my opinion, the best model for being able to be flexible and responsive to customers’ desires.”
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