About Rolling Hills Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Rolling Hills Electric Cooperative, Inc., ranks as one of the top three cooperatives in the state in size with 10,838 meters in service.
It was only a few years ago that members of NCK Electric Cooperative at Belleville, Jewell-Mitchell Cooperative Electric at Mankato, and Smoky Hill Electric Cooperative at Ellsworth voted to consolidate into one cooperative.
Doug Jackson, manager of Rolling Hills, said the consolidation has been good for the membership of the cooperative. "We have become a large cooperative, able to accomplish more for the members, save on operational costs, and yet provide the same quality of personal service our members are accustomed to," he said.
The cooperative maintains district offices at Ellsworth and Belleville and the main office is located at Mankato.
Jackson said the size of the cooperative has allowed the employees to become more specialized in various functions to better serve all the members. "Even though we are larger, our members still receive the same or better service and still talk to the same people they always have," Jackson said. "We have 50 employees and 10 directors."
Jackson credited the cooperative’s board of trustees and the employees with making the consolidation successful and with accepting change for the betterment of the cooperative.
According to Jackson, each cooperative office is responsible for a major part of the overall operation. The Ellsworth office handles all the billing functions for the cooperative, while the Mankato office is responsible for the accounting records. The Belleville office is in charge of all technical functions.
Jackson said that when the cooperative consolidated a schedule was set and followed for developing a work plan, power requirement studies, loan package and revising bylaws and rules and regulations.
"This has all been accomplished on time. Now we can concentrate on other areas to benefit the cooperative and its members," Jackson noted.
One of the areas Jackson is most proud of is in economic development. "We have applied for and received over one million dollars in loans for business development in our service territory," he explained. "We assisted Gerard Tank and Steel with a building expansion loan and we helped AgMark LLC of Concordia purchase a locomotive for their business. We’ve also assisted Winkel Manufacturing with expansion and Kansas Originals. And we assisted with the rebuilding of the Wilson Hotel in Wilson. All of these projects help the communities in our service area. The loans are an excellent tool to use to bring industry and jobs to our area."
Jackson said the cooperative’s member services director, Dale Weinhold, has been instrumental in working to acquire these loans and that work is currently underway on several additional projects. Jackson noted that it takes up to a year of work to acquire a loan.
One of the most unique business ventures for the cooperative is a RadioShack store in the Ellsworth office. Originally opened by Smoky Hill Electric in 1998, the store continues to be a sound business operation for Rolling Hills. Sales continue to rise each year from a strong customer base. Dale Weinhold was instrumental in opening the store. He said it has had a positive influence on the cooperative in several ways.
"Our customer base comes from at least 30 miles around Ellsworth," Weinhold said. "People who are not co-op members and never knew about us before now know who we are because they shop at our RadioShack. We sell DirecTV and complete cell phone service through AllTel. Probably half of our cell phone customers are not members of our cooperative, but they found out about us because of our RadioShack store. And, of course, the community appreciates having a store like RadioShack locally, rather than having to drive to Salina."
The Ellsworth office also has a wiring department that provides service to the surrounding community.
Jackson said the cooperative is converting to automatic meter reading. This and other technologies already in place will permit the cooperative to pinpoint trouble areas on electric lines which will improve efficiency and also provide even more reliable service to members.