East River Electric Power Cooperative held its 70th annual meeting Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, at the Best Western Plus Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls. The theme of this year’s annual meeting was ‘Energized for the Future’. The meeting highlighted the many ways that East River is working together with its member systems to ensure that East River’s regional efforts are in sync with the needs of its membership as well as to continue delivering on the cooperative network’s strong history of providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, East River limited in-person attendance and also offered a livestream viewing option for the annual meeting.
During the morning general session, speakers discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rural economy. They also highlighted how the cooperative network assisted their communities through the time of need.
“Member cooperatives stepped up to help each other through the crisis and leaned on each other for advice. The resilience of our cooperative structure also came to the forefront, with our member systems pulling together to share resources, overcome challenges, support each other and keep the power on for hundreds of thousands of people in our region, including many essential businesses,” said East River Electric General Manager Tom Boyko.
The cooperative’s leaders also provided an update on the Rural Electric Economic Development (REED) Fund workforce housing development financing partnership which aims to address the region’s lack of adequate workforce housing. The initiative began with an initial $4 million in loan funds that REED dedicated specifically to housing development, with a goal of raising an additional $6 million in outside investments.
The first outside investment for the initiative came from Avera Health in 2019. Avera committed $2 million, with funds from the partnership to be used for lending through REED for housing development and housing infrastructure in Avera-served communities. In February 2020, SDN Communications and its 17 member companies across South Dakota also joined the initiative with an agreement to invest $1 million over 4 years. This May, First Bank and Trust joined as a third partner, committing $1.1 million to the effort.
“REED’s member electric cooperatives are excited to launch this housing development initiative and cultivate partnerships with other regional entities,” said Boyko. “We want to assist communities in developing housing that meets the needs of today’s workforce and helps address the urgent need for quality workforce housing in the region.”
REED’s housing loans assist private and nonprofit developers who build multi-family apartment complexes and single-family homes for sale or rent; and are not made to individual homeowners. As a nonprofit, the REED Fund can offer loans with attractive rates with the objective of spurring economic development. The REED Fund is a nonprofit corporation that is governed by 26 member electric cooperatives. REED partners with commercial and other economic development lenders to provide financing and leverage private investment in more than 69 counties throughout South Dakota and Minnesota.
During the annual meeting’s lunch, East River’s leadership presented the cooperative’s Eminent Service Award to former Mid-West Electric Consumers Association Executive Director Bill Drummond. The Eminent Service Award is the most prestigious honor given by East River’s Board of Directors. East River Electric Board Director Ervin Fink was presented with East River’s 20-year service award for his 20 years of service to the cooperative’s board. As a member-owner of Douglas Electric Cooperative, Fink serves as the representative for Douglas Electric on the East River board of directors and has served on the local Douglas Electric board for 34 years.
The afternoon session began with an update from Basin Electric Power Cooperative. A business meeting followed the annual meeting’s general session where the director election was held, and the cooperative’s policy statements were adopted.
East River Electric Power Cooperative General Manager Tom Boyko (left) and East River Electric Board President Jim Ryken provided an update to the co-op’s membership during East River’s 70th annual meeting.