North Fork of the Blackfoot River

Celebrating the Cooperative Difference

Posted: October 1, 2020
Mark Hayden, GM

For more than half a century, cooperatives across the nation have joined together, in October, to celebrate National Co-Op Month. Since it became a nationally recognized celebration in 1964, cooperatives of every type have been celebrating the “Cooperative Difference.” The Cooperative Difference is the way cooperatives value and treat their members, how we work together and collaborate on common goals, and how we engage with and strengthen our communities. Missoula Electric Cooperative is among the many cooperatives that will celebrate what sets co-ops apart from other businesses, this October.

In 1936, a group of local Montana farmers and ranchers united to serve power to their homes and farms. After countless meetings, applications, and approvals, the first Missoula Electric Cooperative lines were energized in 1938, and served electricity to the homes of 125 members within a 75-mile service area. This was the humble beginning of what has flourished over the past eight decades and now provides energy to nearly 13,000 member-owners across 2,020 miles of overhead and underground power line. All of this was achieved by a small network of neighbors who banded together to achieve a common goal.

MEC is still owned by this network of neighbors, who we lovingly refer to as members! That means you hold all of the power (pun intended). We operate with a goal of delivering safe and reliable energy to our members, while keeping the costs as low as possible. To ensure that we are focused on the needs of our members, we are locally governed by a Board of Trustees. Each Trustee was elected into their role by members within their districts.

We value the different perspectives each member, Trustee and district brings to the Cooperative. We frequently solicit member feedback to encourage positive growth or change, help us make important decisions and to see how our members feel about their co-op. This summer, a random sample of 500 members were chosen to participate in MEC’s 2020 Member Survey. These surveys went out, via direct mail and email, to members across our seven districts. The results were compiled anonymously and delivered to the Board in mid-September. This “report card,” gives us a bird’s-eye view of our performance… Are we meeting your expectations? Are you happy with your power quality and reliability? The answers to these questions, and many more, help us determine our strategy for the year ahead. I look forward to sharing those results with you before the year’s end.

Because we were built by, and for, the community, one of the seven Cooperative Principles is “Concern for Community.” This principle is especially important because we are rooted deep within the communities we serve – both our members, and a majority of our employees, live and work within these communities. We support local organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, and put our hard hats to good use building homes for community members who are in need. Another staff favorite, is the Annual Turkey Drive. Our employees and Trustees join forces, before the Thanksgiving holiday, to round-up hundreds of turkeys to donate to families across Western Montana. Without this donation, many of these families would go without. Not only does MEC volunteer and serve, but we also support local education. Our Educational Trust provides dozens of educational scholarships for local students, equips district schools and classrooms with electronic equipment and so much more.

This month, we invite you to help us celebrate 84 years of powering the lives of the members and communities we serve. And most importantly, we encourage you to celebrate the cooperative difference.