Improving Lives since 1939
More than seventy years ago, a handful of Northeast Georgia business and community leaders shared a common vision and belief in a better life. Together, they rallied their neighbors to form an electric cooperative, a new type of venture made available to rural America under the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) by the Roosevelt Administration.
In 1936, local Department of Agriculture extension agent, J.W. Jackson, called upon members of the community to attend meetings to hear about electricity on the farm. In his Jackson Herald column, Jackson announced plans for meetings, saying, "We are having a wonderful response to this program. We are anxious to see every home in Jackson County have electricity. This will mean more for the farm women of our county than anything else we could do for them."
At civic club and school district meetings, the idea of building and owning an electric cooperative was debated. In an act of sheer faith, local residents put down $5 – a pretty significant sum at that time – for membership in an organization that did not yet exist, for a service many did not know how to use and some had never seen.
The group's first application to the REA for a loan to construct a cooperative electric distribution system was rejected. It would take them nearly two years of work on a totally voluntary basis — completing surveys, gathering statistics, providing documentation and drawing up blueprints — before they received approval for what was designated Georgia 83 Jackson. In 1938, the cooperative was chartered as Jackson Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) — Jackson for the county in which they incorporated and EMC as required by the Georgia General Assembly.
Bylaws adopted in 1938 at the cooperative's first board meeting described the organization's purpose. "The aim of Jackson EMC is to make electric energy available to its members at the lowest cost consistent with sound economy and good management." And while we have added other power-related products and services over the years to increase the benefit of the cooperative to its members, our basic goal remains the same, our commitment to our members unchanged.
Operation begins in 1939
On a chilly January day in 1939, the founders of Jackson Electric Membership Corporation broke ground in Jefferson for construction of the first leg of an electric distribution system that would bring light to the farms of rural Banks, Barrow, Clarke, Franklin, Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson and Madison counties.
Power was turned on for the first time in April of that same year. The first items the new customers bought were electric irons that replaced the six pound cast irons they had been heating on wood stoves, and radios that ended the isolation of life on the farm.
On the farm, the new lines brought power for light, feeding, grinding and mixing, shellers, elevators, silage cutters, automatic feeding machines for poultry and livestock, spraying and irrigation, brooders, milking machines and refrigeration. It allowed farmers to produce more and produce better quality, which enabled them to earn more.
In 1940, after Jackson EMC's first full year of operation, we had served nearly 2,000 meters and sold almost 600,000 kWh of electricity. We had more than $500,000 in plant assets, had nearly 680 miles of energized wire, two substations and nine employees.
The poultry industry began growing dramatically in the 1950s, and a large number of poultry houses were constructed and wired. Jackson EMC offered incentives to growers who installed electric brooders to help pay wiring costs. During that time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Chattahoochee River, creating Lake Sidney Lanier and paving the way for a new type of development in the area – recreation.
By 1960, 98% of homes and businesses in the cooperative's service area had electricity. Outside of the growing poultry industry, Jackson EMC's commercial and industrial customers were few and mainly light industries, such as rock quarries. That was about to change.
The turning point, courtesy of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, was the completion of Interstate 85 in the mid-1960s. By the end of the decade, Jackson EMC would see a growing number of industries, including a carpet mill, mobile home plant, garment manufacturer and freezer company, spring up in Hall and Gwinnett counties. The opening of the Gwinnett Interstate Industrial Park brought companies like J.I. Case Tractor, Panasonic Corporation and Adcom Metals. The transportation corridor attracted truck stops and motels to its exits.
At 30 years old, Jackson EMC had experienced steady, if relatively slow growth. It was now serving an additional 24,641 meters — an average of about 820 new meters a year. It had added $10.9 million in assets, nearly 3,000 miles of energized wire, and 13 substations.
The early 70s saw double-digit inflation across the United States. The cost of goods doubled and tripled. Supply shortages began, including coal and oil. As a result of the supply shortages and the resulting dramatic increases in wholesale power cost, utilities across the country were forced to raise customer rates. In response, 39 of Georgia's EMCs, including Jackson, formed Oglethorpe EMC, as their own generation and transmission supplier. Oglethorpe would invest in transmission lines and purchase interests in generation plants to give the EMCs some control over wholesale power costs for the first time.
The recession deferred the promise of development created by I-85. When business growth did occur during these years, it was mainly in the form of small commercial operations – restaurants, convenience stores, hotels, bank branch offices.
But, after ten years of recession, boom times were right around the corner. An indicator had been the 128% increase in Gwinnett County population between 1970 and 1980, accounting for 57% of new Jackson EMC meters. The cooperative broke ground on a new headquarters facility in Jefferson — its first in 20 years — to handle the growth in membership in anticipation of more growth to come.
On the Move
The end of the recession was like a match to kindling for Gwinnett County. It would make a name for itself in the 1980s as the fastest growing county in the nation. Nearly 70% of all new Jackson EMC accounts during that period were in Gwinnett, and the county remains home to more than half of all Jackson EMC accounts.
Major commercial and industrial growth in Jackson EMC's service area began in the early 1980s, particularly in Gwinnett and Hall counties. Jackson EMC saw record numbers of new commercial and industrial accounts, a 63% increase in just five years. Companies like Rockwell International, Scientific Atlanta, Micromeritics, Glidden Paint, Duracell, National Steel, Carmet, Kubota, Peachtree Tooling, Nikon, Abbott Laboratories, Oki Electric and Quadram moved into the area and selected the cooperative as their power provider. Gwinnett Place Mall replaced a farm at the intersection of I-85 and Pleasant Hill Road, attracting other commercial development to the vicinity.
Jackson EMC responded to the growth. New district facilities were built in Lawrenceville. A new data processing system was installed, adding billing flexibility and making customer billing histories available 24 hours a day.
Improvements for commercial and industrial customers with critical and/or intensive power requirements included new substations, loop feeds, dedicated circuits, concrete encasement of primary feeders and exclusive use telephone lines, all to guarantee service reliability. Uninterruptible power source systems were introduced. The first commercial/industrial marketing representatives were hired to assist customers.
Home on the Competitive Range
Going into the 1990s, Jackson EMC continued to see record growth averaging between 6,000 and 8,000 new meters each year. Commercial and industrial accounts continued to grow, and so did competition for those accounts. In 1995, the cooperative sharpened its competitive edge by offering price, service and satisfaction guarantees that hinged on low rates, swift outage restoration and power quality. That same year brought a new focus on customer service and satisfaction. Just four years later, Jackson EMC was signing 100% of customer choice loads in its service area. Continuing to build the benefits of cooperative membership, Jackson EMC formed a joint venture with Walton EMC in 1998 to create EMC Security, a subsidiary that would offer both residential and commercial security products and services.
In its second 30 years, Jackson EMC served an additional 114,773 meters, averaging more than 3,800 new meters a year — four times the average annual number added from 1939 to 1969. It added $523 million in assets, more than 8,250 miles of energized wire and 44 substations. And it sold nearly 4 billion more kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The cooperative tripled in size in the 20 years from 1980 to 2000.
The Power to Improve Lives
Jackson EMC started the new millennium with a long-range plan to support future growth by converting 12kV distribution lines to 25kV, and constructing six new substations. And it capped that plan with new 15-year strategic power agreements to ensure future demand is met at affordable prices.
The sophistication and technical requirements of many of its new commercial and industrial accounts, like Haverty's Eastern Distribution Center and the Gwinnett Civic Arena, demand a constant source of quality, reliable power. The cooperative has constructed a distribution network of underground lines and substations that assure these customers of a reliable power supply.
A new billing system, new automated call distribution system, new mapping system and Call Center are building on the cooperative's history of improving customer service. The level of service provided is evident in the 90% customer satisfaction ratings the cooperative consistently receives, and demonstrated in the 2002 "East Region Cooperative of the Year" and 2004 "Cooperative of the Year" awards received from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
As development in Gwinnett County has slowed somewhat, growth in Barrow, Hall and Jackson counties has picked up speed. In just the last five years, the number of meters the cooperative serves has increased 21%, with a 28% increase in the number of commercial/industrial meters.
Our commitment remains the same today as when it was set down at the first board meeting — to provide power to our members at the lowest possible price consistent with sound economy and good management. And in the bargain, we are proud to provide the power to improve lives — both lives at work and lives at home.