Southeast Regional hosted in Chattanooga

The challenges and opportunities facing electric cooperatives are rapidly evolving, and it is critical to build networks and sharpen skills so that your co-op can thrive in this new energy marketplace. The 2023 Regional Marketing, Communications and Member Services Conference — also known as the Southeast Regional — attracted co-op professionals from 13 states to make new connections and hear from the industry’s most sought-after thought leaders.

The popular conference, which takes place every four years and rotates throughout the region, was held in Chattanooga, Tenn., on April 18–21. This year’s theme was “Beyond Power” and drew record attendance of more 200 attendees and exhibitors.

Andy Berke, administrator of the USDA Rural Utilities Service and former mayor of Chattanooga, opened the two-day event via livestream from his office in Washington, D.C.

A panel of thought leaders from across the Southeast discussed topics likely to impact electric co-ops in the coming year. Joining the panel was Lindsey Davis, director of marketing and market research, North Carolina Electric Cooperatives; Jason Hill, program manager for cyber security governance, Tennessee Valley Authority; and discussing supply chain issues were Phil Clark, United Utility Supply, and Mark Dennis, Gresco.

Breakout sessions on the first day included topics “Electric vehicle Adoption: What Does It Really Mean” by Tamra Reynolds with CoBank; “Marketing High-Speed Internet in a Competitive Environment” by Andy Johns with Pioneer Utility Resources; and “Everyday Photography” by Robin Conover, editor emeritus of The Tennessee Magazine.

Day 2 featured choices of “Tackle Your Tech To-Do List and Powered Productivity” by Beth “Z” Ziesenis; “Making the Media Work for You” by Kate Tillotson of NRECA; and “Trends in Graphic Design” by Ron Bell with The Tennessee Magazine.

Attendees rotated through the ever-popular roundtable discussions focused on a variety of hot topics. Adam Schwartz, The Cooperative Way, discussed the cooperative approach and was followed by an engaging panel discussion about Youth Tour moderated by Beth Knudson of NRECA.

A final round a breakout sessions featured “Understanding Your Utility: The basics of generation and why cooperatives matter” by Debra Ballard with The Ballard Group; “The Successful Balance Between Customer Acquisition and Managing Member Expectations” by Abby Carere, Cindy Parks and Chelsey Vague with Conexon; and “Engaging Your Colleagues and Your Membership: Resources and best practices to elevate your game and create impactful interactions” by Scott Bialick with Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.

Closing out the conference on Friday morning was Apogee Interactive CEO Jim Malcom, speaking about effective and efficient customer engagement amid rising cost and rate increases, and Beth Ziesenis, who encouraged attendees to discover their technology psychology.

This year’s planning committee included representatives from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Jim Robertson representing Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. In an attempt to get back on schedule, the next Southeast Regional is tentatively being planned for 2026 in Alabama.

–Report by Jim Robertson, Director of Marketing, VMDAEC.