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A New Cooperative

In the mid-1930s, a small group of northeast Georgia business and community leaders rallied their neighbors to form an electric cooperative, a new type of venture made available to rural America under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration (REA).

In 1936, local Department of Agriculture Extension Agent J.W. Jackson asked community members to attend meetings about electricity on the farm. In his Jackson Herald column, he announced: “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 co-op was debated. In acts of faith, families put down $5, a significant sum at the time, to join an organization that did not yet exist – for an unfamiliar service.

For two years, volunteers completed surveys, gathered information and drew up blueprints to apply for an REA loan to build an electric distribution system. Finally, a loan was approved, and in 1938, Jackson Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) was chartered. Bylaws adopted at the first board meeting described the organization’s purpose: “To make electric energy available to its members at the lowest cost consistent with sound economy and good management.”

Operations Begin in 1939

In January 1939, the founders of Jackson EMC broke ground in Jefferson to build the first leg of an electric distribution system to power farms in Banks, Barrow, Clarke, Franklin, Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson and Madison counties. In April 1939, power was turned on for the first time.

The first items Jackson EMC members purchased were radios that ended the isolation of life on the farm and electric irons to replace six-pound cast irons they had heated on wood stoves. On the farm, the new lines brought electricity for light, automatic feeding machines for poultry and livestock, milking machines and refrigeration. Farmers were able to produce more with better quality, which enabled them to earn more.

In 1940, after our first full year of operation, Jackson EMC had served almost 2,000 meters. We had more than $500,000 in plant assets, almost 680 miles of energized wire, two substations and nine employees.

The Next Two Decades

While Jackson EMC got off to an energetic start, growth halted in 1942 and remained at a standstill during World War II, when the nation’s building and manufacturing efforts were focused on supporting the war effort. Almost as soon as the war ended, steady work on the co-op’s electric system resumed.

In the 1950s, the local poultry industry began growing dramatically. Numerous poultry houses were constructed and wired in our service area, and Jackson EMC offered incentives to help pay wiring costs for growers who installed electric brooders.

By 1960, 98% of homes and businesses in Jackson EMC’s service area had electricity. Outside of the poultry industry, our few commercial and industrial members were mostly light industries, such as rock quarries. That would soon change.

Economic Development

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, new industries in Hall and Gwinnett counties included a carpet mill, mobile home plant and garment manufacturer. Gwinnett Interstate Industrial Park opened and brought J.I. Case Tractor, Panasonic Corporation, Adcom Metals and other industries while I-85 attracted truck stops and motels to its exits. At 30 years old in 1968, Jackson EMC had experienced steady but slow growth with about 820 meters added each year.

In the early 1970s, double-digit inflation hit the U.S. Due to coal and oil supply shortages that resulted in increased wholesale power costs, the nation’s utilities raised customer rates. In response, 39 of Georgia’s EMCs, including Jackson EMC, formed Oglethorpe Power Corporation as a generation and transmission supplier that would invest in transmission lines and purchase interests in generation plants to give the EMCs some control over wholesale power cost.

The recession deferred the promise of development created by I-85. When growth did occur, it was mostly small commercial operations, like restaurants, convenience stores and hotels.

After 10 years of recession, boom times were ahead. An indicator was the 128% increase in Gwinnett County’s population between 1970 and 1980, accounting for more than half of new Jackson EMC meters. To handle that increase, and in anticipation of more to come, Jackson EMC broke ground on a new headquarters facility in Jefferson, our first facility construction in 20 years.

On the Move

The end of the recession was like a match to kindling for Gwinnett County, which would make a name for itself in the 1980s as the fastest growing county in the nation. Nearly 70% of new Jackson EMC accounts then were in Gwinnett, and the county remains home to more than half of all Jackson EMC accounts.

Growth boomed through the 1980s, particularly in Gwinnett and Hall counties, where a record numbers of new commercial and industrial accounts were added when companies like Rockwell International, Scientific Atlanta and Kubota selected Jackson EMC 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 went up in Lawrenceville, and a new data processing system added billing flexibility. To guarantee service reliability for commercial and industrial members with intensive power requirements, we added new substations, dedicated circuits and concrete encasement of primary feeders. Uninterruptible power source systems were introduced, and the first commercial and industrial marketing representatives were hired to assist members.

Home on the Competitive Range

As the 1990s started, Jackson EMC continued to experience record growth with an average of 6,000-8,000 new meters added each year. Commercial and industrial accounts continued to grow, and so did competition for those accounts. In 1995, we sharpened our competitive edge by offering price, service and satisfaction guarantees that hinged on low rates, swift outage restoration and power quality. The same year brought heightened focus on member service and satisfaction and, within four years, we were signing 100% of customer choice loads in our service area.

Continuing to add to the benefits of cooperative membership, Jackson EMC formed a joint venture with Walton EMC in 1998 to create EMC Security, a subsidiary that offers residential and commercial security products and services.

In its second 30 years, Jackson EMC added an average of 3,800 new meters a year – four times the average added from 1939 to 1969. In the 20 years from 1980 to 2000, we tripled our membership.

A New Millennium

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. We 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 new commercial and industrial accounts, like Haverty’s Eastern Distribution Center and the Gwinnett Civic Arena, demanded a constant source of reliable power. Jackson EMC constructed a distribution network of underground lines and substations to ensure that reliability.

To continue improving member service, we added a new billing system, automated call distribution system, mapping system and call center.

As development in Gwinnett County slowed, growth in Barrow, Hall and Jackson counties picked up. In five years, the number of meters Jackson EMC served increased by 21%.

In October 2005, Jackson EMC introduced Operation Round Up®, which encourages members to “round up” power bills to the next dollar with the extra change benefiting charitable organizations and individuals in need. The Jackson EMC Foundation was formed with a volunteer board that manages contributions and selects worthy benefactors.

The Great Recession

While the first five years of the new millennium were marked by steady growth, the last half of the decade was a different story due to the Great Recession. Jackson EMC had been adding several thousand new members each year, but in 2009 there was a net loss of accounts for the first time in our history. Our largest member, Louisiana Pacific, closed shortly after the economic crisis slammed the construction industry. In the Gainesville district, where 2,500 new members had been added each year, the annual average dropped to 200.

By 2010, subdivisions at various forms of development remained uncompleted throughout our service area. In Jackson County, entrances to 70 would-be subdivisions stopped at the ditch, a testimony to the burst of the housing bubble.

Back to Business

The economic slowdown gave Jackson EMC a chance to catch its breath and concentrate on enhancing our operations. A major undertaking kicked off in 2009 when we began implementing our Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) by retiring 200,000-plus meters and replacing them with meters that are read remotely, monitor power use for members and alert us when a member’s power is out. The $25 million project was completed in 2012.

As the economy began to pick back up during the 2010s, we added new facilities, features and procedures:

  • 2012: We initiated paperless billing to help protect members’ identities and save money on annual billing costs.
  • 2013: We launched our first mobile site for members.
  • 2014: We moved our Neese office to a new facility at Hull. We also broke a record in January when we reached a peak demand of 1,293 megawatts.
  • 2016: We restructured our organization to align member services under a chief operation officer and essential support services under a chief financial officer. Along with the CEO, COO and CFO, vice presidents form Jackson EMC’s Leadership Team, which meets routinely to address needs and plan for the future.
  • 2019: We launched a new member website and mobile app, MyJacksonEMC, to make it easier for members to pay bills, view energy use, report outages and sign up for services.

The Power to Improve Lives

Throughout our history, Jackson EMC has worked to provide quality, reliable and affordable electricity to our members. We have done this one power pole, one mile of line, one substation at a time – all while offering various programs to help our members save money by conserving energy.

We have done this while keeping the Seventh Cooperative Principle by demonstrating our commitment to community through projects and programs that promote quality of life and wellbeing.

When we completed our first year of supplying power in 1940, Jackson EMC served fewer than 2,000 meters on about 680 miles of power lines with two substations. In 2022, we provide power to more than 245,000 meters on 14,640 miles of lines with 81 substations. We finished up the year 1940 with nine employees. In 2022, we have 444.

Our goal and commitment to you, our members, is to keep doing what we do best, what we were formed to do almost a century ago – to provide power at the lowest possible price consistent with sound economy and good management.

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