The Columbia Office

This month we focus on perhaps our fastest growing area, Maury County, and the DREMC Columbia office that serves a broad, rural and diverse landscape.

The area is known for its historic sites, including the home of James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States. Part of the historic Natchez Trace Parkway also winds through the county. From Maury County’s quiet Santa Fe to booming Spring Hill, this county preserves its past while ushering in community growth at an unprecedented rate.

Columbia linemen

“We are growing together,” says Steven Hopkins, Senior Director, Columbia Operations. “Maury County is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, and as it grows, so does the number of members we serve.”

Hopkins grew up in neighboring Marshall County and has worked at DREMC for almost 20 years. After working as a DREMC lineman, safety coordinator and as Sewanee’s area manager, he has been in his current position since the summer of 2020.

Dwight Cotham, field engineer, has worked at DREMC for 12 years and spends much of his time in the Spring Hill area meeting with home builders to help plan, stake and survey lots in new subdivisions. “New home construction has exploded in this area,” Cotham said. “In a single day, while surveying lots in the Southern Springs subdivision, I was surprised to learn that I had walked 3.5 miles within the new subdivision to cover the homes that are planned at this time. That’s how large these developments are and how many homes are planned in each phase of construction.”

District Engineer Mike Newman said that their team prioritizes up front communication about the cost and lead time for electric construction given today’s supply chain challenges. “In some cases, it is taking up to 52 weeks to receive materials needed for electric construction projects,” Newman shares. “We are working to balance these delays with the rate of new construction so that expectations are met.”

Cameron Isley, field engineer, also meets with members building new homes and helps them plan for electric service construction. “I enjoy meeting new people every day,” he says. “I’ve been at DREMC for a year. DREMC is one big family, and the employees have been helpful to me as I continue to learn my role.”

In 2021, DREMC’s Columbia team constructed over 700 new electric services – this is 100 more than in 2020, according to DeWayne Colbaugh, district operations supervisor. Colbaugh has worked at DREMC for 24 years and supervises the Columbia linemen, helping to schedule and plan electrical construction for the area. “The Columbia team does what’s needed to get services built, working around rough terrain and weather conditions,” he says.

Working Foreman Steven McEwen grew up in Culleoka, a rural community in Maury County, and shares that it can be challenging to keep up with technology changes as they relate to his job, but he likes the improvements. “Important data like switch numbers, pole numbers, location information is all accessible with an iPad instead of a printed book we once carried in the trucks,” said McEwen. “The mapping system is excellent and helps speed our ability to find outage and construction locations, which allows us to assist members more quickly.”

From a lineman’s perspective, seeing the changes and growth of the community and playing a small role in this growth is rewarding. Linemen Cody Dunavant, Heath Fitzgerald and Chad Mills agree that one of the best rewards is the sense of accomplishment they feel when they restore power after an outage or complete the electric construction for a new home or business. “We like helping the members,” said Dunavant, “and this is a good line of work to be in as it enables you to do just that.”

Jonathan Riley, working foreman, grew up in Maury County’s Hampshire community and spent 13 years working as an electrical contractor before joining the DREMC team in 2008. “Over the years, working as a lineman has allowed me the opportunity to not only work in my local community, but I’ve also been able to assist with storm recovery in other states like Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina following hurricanes and ice storms,” Riley said. “Several of us worked to repair hurricane damage to an electric system in Louisiana through the cooperative mutual aid agreement. The hurricane damage was extensive, and there was lots of work to do. While we were there, our crew slept in bunk beds set up in the back of a semi-trailer. The conditions there weren’t the best, but we were thankful to have a place to rest. After 12 days in Louisiana, I was so glad to see my family when I got home.”

Eric “Cathead” Sisk, a senior lineman with 15 years of experience at DREMC’s Columbia office said that learning new technology and keeping up with the many changes in the industry hasn’t always been easy.  “We now use tablets in the field, which are very handy,” he admits. “Now we can look up details about a member’s location or account wherever we are in the county. We can find any address and see how the electric lines are fed. This information once had to be committed to memory, and that wasn’t always easy!”

Office Manager Rodica Collins moved to Maury County in 2020 and brings 12 years of member service experience in the electric cooperative industry to Duck River. “We have an opportunity to transform our office to be the best we can for those we serve,” Collins said. “The pandemic changed the way we provide service and assist the members. Our team works together to show respect for the members and to each other, build camaraderie and trust while having open communication between all departments within our organization. We care for the members we serve, and we aim to be helpful with whatever their electric service needs are.”

“I believe the most rewarding part of my job is being able to refer members to community organizations for financial resources when they are having difficulty paying the electric bill,” said Heather Goats, member service representative (MSR). “During one instance, a Duck River member did not have a phone nor anyone else to help him, so I made the call to a local assistance agency for him. Providing service to us means investing time beyond taking payments or new service applications. It’s all about going the extra step to help DREMC members.”

Goats and Tess Hooper, MSR, share that they take time with DREMC members to explain how the cooperative’s payment plan options are beneficial in helping them budget for and schedule electric bill payments.

“When members hear about how they can receive emails and text alert messages about their electric bills, due dates and more, they are quick to sign up,” said Hooper. “Everyone is busy, and it’s easy to forget to pay the bill. DREMC’s text and email reminders are a great way to avoid falling behind. Plus, the daily energy use text messages are helpful in tracking how much electricity you use each day. Knowing this information can encourage members to make adjustments at home to reduce energy use to better control the bill amount.”

“This is the first place I’ve worked that holds customer service above everything,” states Courtney Willis, an MSR and newcomer to DREMC. “The positive attitudes of the employees make a difference, and you look forward to coming to work each day.”

James Truette has been with DREMC for over 15 years and holds a position that’s an extension of member services as he works to help members with their bills. “I am always quick to offer Duck River’s pre-pay program as a great solution for giving members more flexibility with electric bill payments,” he explains. “A member recently told me that DREMC’s pre-pay option is the best thing for paying his bill. Paying $25 a week toward the electricity used is easier for some members than paying the total bill amount of $100 in one single payment by the due date.”

“Working at Duck River Electric is all about caring for the members we serve,” said Rodica Collins, office manager. “Listening to the members and understanding what we can do to best assist them is every employee’s job. And many times, after assisting a member with their needs, we receive positive feedback. That means a lot to us and reassures our team that we are doing something right!”