Made in Kentucky
Kentucky’s electric co-ops provide the energy that makes most of the world’s Post-it Notes®, playing cards, Corvettes, as well as hundreds of other products known worldwide. Companies cite the state’s central location in the U.S., low electric rates, and employees with good work ethics as key reasons they located here.
When most people think of Kentucky products, they think of bourbon, Thoroughbreds, and tobacco to make cigarettes.
But what about the playing cards used in most casinos in the country, every Post-it Note® used throughout most of the world, and every Corvette made in the last three decades?
These products, and many more that you might not have thought of, are made by international or national corporations that have facilities in the state and are served by one of Kentucky's electric cooperatives.
Kentucky has 24 distribution electric cooperatives that provide electricity to more than 800,000 residential, commercial, and industrial meters, or about one in every three meters in the state. The electricity is generated and transmitted by East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester and Big Rivers Electric Corporation in Henderson, as well as power from the Tennessee Valley Authority that flows to members of five Kentucky distribution co-ops.
Because Kentucky is centrally located in the U.S., with access to several major interstates, and also offers some of the lowest electric rates in the nation, many companies have chosen to locate here.
If you have colorful Post-it Notes® stuck to your desk or refrigerator, you're using a product made in Cynthiana. The 3M plant there is one of the 55,000 accounts served by Blue Grass Energy, which has its headquarters in Nicholasville.
Plant Manager Colleen M. Emery says, "3M typically selects manufacturing sites in rural areas, with good work ethic and a broader community to draw on for employment."
The plant, which has about 500 employees, was opened in 1969 to make 3M overhead projectors and copy machines. It now spins out about 1,300 varieties of Post-it Notes® and 270 kinds of Scotch® packaging tapes. If you have used Post-it Notes® anywhere except Europe, or Scotch industrial box sealing or retail packaging tape anywhere at all, it was made right here in Cynthiana.
Owen Electric Cooperative, which is based in Owenton in northern Kentucky, supplies Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, which opened in 1996. The 1,300 employees there don't make vehicles, but are responsible for engineering, research and development, and the manufacturing activities at 14 plants in the U.S.—which includes the flagship manufacturing plant in Georgetown—Mexico, and Canada.
Here's the deal on another of Owen Electric's 58,000 accounts: The United States Playing Card Company in Erlanger, where 325 employees turn out millions of decks a month. If you have shuffled a deck of Bicycle®, Bee®, or Aviator® brand cards, for example, it was produced right here in Erlanger.
"In the U.S. we're the No. 1 producer of casino-quality playing cards," says Rick Montgomery, the company's facility and security manager. "We supply most of the casinos operating in the United States." The company's largest area of growth now is "emerging markets, such as the preshuffled baccarat decks it sells to casinos in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau."
Jackson Energy Co-op, based in McKee, is proud to serve two companies that employ people in the sewing industry, proving that Americans can still compete in a labor-intensive market even when most of these jobs have moved overseas.
There is BAE Systems, which describes itself as "a global defense, aerospace, and security company." It has been in Kentucky since 1995, with 200 employees in three locations. They make Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment—pockets, pouches, and rucksacks carried by soldiers. Carhartt, which produces clothes for "those who work and play outdoors," was founded in 1889 and established its first Kentucky factory in Irvine in Estill County in 1931. With unemployment soaring as the Great Depression tightened its grip, locals raised $35,000 to attract the plant and provide 18 jobs.
The General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant has been producing the popular Corvette sports car since 1981. The plant's 700 employees turned out 15,000 of the popular sports cars last year. Communications Manager Andrea Hales says that with an all-new Corvette Stingray expected to hit dealerships this fall, and with an expanded employee base of 900, that number is expected to go significantly higher. Next door to the plant is the National Corvette Museum. Both are served by Bowling Green-based Warren RECC, which has more than 60,000 accounts.
Also in Bowling Green, and supplied by Warren RECC, is the world headquarters for Fruit of the Loom, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary symbolized by the familiar logo of an apple, green, yellow, and purple grapes, and leaves. Spokeswoman Charla Bobbitt says the company has more than 2,000 employees in Kentucky, which includes a textile plant in Jamestown, and more than 30,000 worldwide.
In far southwestern Kentucky is Stella-Jones, a Canadian company served by Hickman-Fulton Counties RECC that processes railroad ties. "We produce about a million ties a year," Plant Manager Wayne Kusmierczyk says. The plant opened in 2007, the location chosen, he says, because of raw material, a good work force, and proximity to a Canadian National Railway line.
Some co-ops serve several companies that are in related "niche" industries.
In the area served by South Kentucky RECC out of Somerset, for example, the 67,000 energy accounts include Somerset Hardwood Flooring, Armstrong Hardwood Products, American Woodmark, Wonderfuel, and W&W Hardwoods, all of which take advantage of the area's lush forests.
Meade County RECC, which has 26,000 total member accounts in Meade and Breckinridge counties, supplies several companies that mine limestone along the Ohio River. Tim Gossett, Meade County RECC's vice president of Member Services and Marketing, says they provide electricity to Hilltop Big Bend Quarry, Riverside Stone Co., Liter's Quarry, and Kosmos Cement Co.
Riverside is owned by Yager Materials of Owensboro. Company secretary Jim Yager says much of the limestone mined there is used for construction aggregate, although some is used for scrubbers at utility plants. Two mines at the site are there because of river access.
"The formation is right there close to the river, and about 99 percent of it is shipped out by barge," he says.
Of course, Kentucky's co-ops also supply some of those companies that do symbolize Kentucky to most people. A prime example is Inter-County Energy Cooperative of Danville. Among its 25,000 accounts is Maker's Mark in Loretto, which Bill Samuels Sr. founded in 1953. Now owned by Beam Inc., the Maker's Mark smooth bourbon is hand dipped in its signature red wax that says Kentucky around the world.
USING LESS ENERGY IS GOAL
It seems paradoxical, but sometimes the best thing an electric utility can do for a customer is help figure out how to use less electricity.
Take the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant that turns out Corvettes, for example. Thomas E. Mahady III, the plant's utility manager, says that in the last several years, GM has worked with Warren RECC and the Tennessee Valley Authority to save energy. A solar generation array, for example, uses energy from the sun to recharge electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt. And it provides a very small part of the considerable amount of coal-generated energy needed to build 'Vettes.
"When the array is not producing power to charge vehicles, the solar-generated power is used in the plant, reducing our electrical demand from the local utility," Mahady says.
The plant also replaced 1,045 high-pressure sodium light fixtures throughout the plant with high-efficiency T8 fluorescent fixtures. This reduced the plant's electricity consumption by more than 1.73 million kilowatt-hours a year while providing higher quality lighting.
What are called hybrid generation lighting poles have been erected in the Wildlife Habitat parking lot, located on the 75-acre assembly plant property. The stand-alone stations use a combination of wind and solar power to light the lot at night.
Kentucky's electric cooperatives are working with other national and international companies across the state to help them use less electricity. Often the companies have found that just changing their lighting lets them save money. Why would a business help a customer use less of its product?
"In electric cooperatives, the customer is the owner," says Dennis Cannon, who is vice president for Public Relations and Strategic Initiatives for the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives that serves the 26 electric co-ops in the state. "There is no external shareholder for whom the utility needs to produce a dividend."
He also notes that the demand for electricity is constantly increasing, requiring more power plants. The co-ops, and other utilities, try to balance their capacity and demand in the most economical way, either by working with the business member to reduce their energy demand or by building another kilowatt of capacity, whichever is most cost-efficient.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE MADE IN KENTUCKY
If you have bought groceries at a Walmart in Kentucky, fired a Remington rifle, or sliced into a juicy Smithfield ham, chances are one of the state's electric co-ops played a role in providing the energy that made that possible. See a list of other national companies served by the state's electric co-ops—go to More Made In Kentucky.