Small member co-op big on community involvement

It has been said that if you choose a job you love you’ll never have to work a day in your life. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, it is clear from our visit with Jeff Umphlett, manager of Big Horn Rural Electric Company (Basin, Wyo.), that this is a man who truly enjoys his days working at this northwest Wyoming co-op.

Jeff Umphlett, manager of Big Horn REA, is a second generation co-op manager. His dad, James, was a long-time manager of the former Shoshone River Power.

Jeff Umphlett, manager of Big Horn REA, is a second generation co-op manager. His dad, James, was a long-time manager of the former Shoshone River Power.

“It is very gratifying to work with such a great group of dedicated employees and I really get a lot of satisfaction interacting with our members every day – it’s a great job,” said Umphlett.

Of course, this is not too surprising when you consider that the Big Horn manager grew up learning about the co-op business model from a veteran of the industry, his dad, James Umphlett, former long-time manager of Shoshone River Power, based in Cody, Wyo. Shoshone River Power was part of the Tri-State membership until the mid-1980s, when the co-op sold its assets to PacifiCorp.

The younger Umphlett decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and after a few years of working for an accounting firm in Denver returned to Wyoming to work for another former Tri-State member cooperative, Riverton Valley REA (Riverton, Wyo.)  In the late 90s Riverton Valley REA and another former Tri-State member system, Hot Springs REA (Thermopolis, Wyo.), merged to become High Plains Power, based in Riverton.

The Big Horn manager spent 18 years with Riverton Valley as an accountant/office manager and has served as manager of Big Horn for seven years.

Sheila Kampbell, Big Horn’s member services representative, handles rebates for the co-op’s Energy Efficiency Products Program.

Sheila Kampbell, Big Horn’s member services representative, handles rebates for the co-op’s Energy Efficiency Products Program.

Although the co-op is fairly small, in terms of member consumers – only about 2,300 – it is very big on supporting the communities and rural people who live within the co-op’s vast Big Horn Basin service territory.

By far the most ambitious economic development effort is in the works just a few blocks south of the co-op’s headquarters town of Basin. “About five years ago we donated money for a sound system for the Big Horn County Fairgrounds,” said the co-op manager. Now, with the financial support of its board, funding from the Daniels Fund, Wyoming Business Council, donations and other sources, the co-op is helping sponsor the construction of a $1.2 million indoor arena and multi-purpose facility near the site of the fairground’s outdoor arena, which is named in honor of the co-op.

“Our board takes the cooperative principle of community involvement quite seriously,” said Umphlett.

Read more about Big Horn REA in the upcoming edition of Network Magazine.

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