New headquarters demonstrate cooperative focus on economic development

New headquarters demonstrate cooperative focus on economic development Main Photo

26 Jun 2024

Many Great River Energy member-owner cooperatives have recognized the need to update their headquarters buildings, service centers and other facilities in recent years, to better serve their members and ensure the safety of their staff. The unique ways they have approached these projects have created significant economic development impacts for their communities.

Various factors drive the need for these upgrades, including improving services, enhancing reliability, and meeting the growing demands of businesses and residents for reliable energy and advanced technological capabilities. But it is the cooperative focus on community that makes these projects catalysts for further growth.

Catalyzing economic growth as cooperatives make necessary upgrades

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC), located in the heart of Aitkin County, Minnesota, has long been a pillar of the community, serving over 13,500 members — primarily residential — with dedication and distinction. With 49 committed employees and a service area spanning Aitkin, Mille Lacs and Crow Wing counties, MLEC has been a reliable provider of energy and services for decades.

MLEC considered a new headquarters for over a decade, a decision that was not taken lightly. The current facilities, while functional, have become increasingly inadequate to meet the demands of a modern and growing electric cooperative. The decision to pursue a new headquarters was driven by the desire to enhance efficiency and accommodate the technological advancements necessary for the cooperative's continued success, a decision made with the community's best interests at heart.

Empowering connectivity: MLEC's new headquarters enhances service and accessibility

A unique confluence of events, including the loss of access entries and land along Highway 169 due to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's road expansion, prompted MLEC to explore new possibilities. The opportunity to purchase a 30-acre parcel of high ground in Aitkin County provided the perfect solution.

The benefits of the new headquarters are extensive. The facility, located 10 miles south of its current location, will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure. This strategic move will improve response times for outages and maintenance as well as enhance the cooperative's ability to serve its members efficiently.

Moreover, the new headquarters will allow MLEC to more competitively meet the community's needs for affordable energy, efficient services and high-speed internet. Since introducing MLEC Fiber in 2016, serving over 1,400 customers, the cooperative is positioned to adapt to future energy and information technology innovations for the next 80 years.

Building for the future: MLEC's new headquarters fuels economic growth and quality of life

The impact of MLEC's new headquarters extends beyond operational efficiency. Most of MLEC's employees are residents of Aitkin County and are deeply invested in the area's lakes along with hunting, fishing and recreational activities. The cooperative takes pride in providing critical infrastructure and being a significant employer in rural central Minnesota, contributing to the region's economic vitality and quality of life.

MLEC is updating its facilities to keep pace with technological advancements and expanding service offerings as part of a broader trend among cooperatives.

"We are proud to say that the new headquarters will be built with sustainable materials and energy-efficient systems, aligning with our commitment to environmental responsibility," said MLEC Chief Executive Officer Sarah Cron. "MLEC plays a crucial role in maintaining service reliability for our members by providing energy to homes and businesses and we are committed to doing so sustainably and responsibly."

Looking ahead, MLEC is not just prepared but excited about the future. The new headquarters will empower employees, improve operational efficiencies and provide the room needed for expansion. The cooperative's upcoming open house and annual meeting event in September will allow members and the community to witness firsthand the benefits of the new facility, reinforcing the cooperative’s commitment to a prosperous future.

MLEC's new headquarters is not just a building but a testament to its commitment to excellence and innovation. As MLEC looks toward its next 80 years, the new headquarters will serve as a beacon of economic development, driving growth and prosperity for the community and its members.

Latest announcement: Stearns Electric Association breaks ground on new operations center, headquarters

Stearns Electric Association celebrated a significant milestone on May 6 with the groundbreaking ceremony for its new operations center and headquarters. The new 89,000-square-foot facility will replace the 54-year-old center, providing the necessary space and infrastructure to support the cooperative’s expanding operations. Located along Interstate 94 in Melrose, Minnesota, the new headquarters is poised to enhance operational efficiency and service delivery.

The $21.5 million project represents a strategic investment in Stearns Electric’s future and its ability to meet the energy needs of its members. The new facility will feature modernized garages, an enhanced mechanic shop, meeting areas and storage spaces for critical materials and equipment. Designed for efficient workflow and collaboration, the updated workspaces will boost productivity and operational effectiveness.

This project underscores Stearns Electric’s commitment to providing reliable and cost-effective energy services, ultimately driving economic development in the region by ensuring a robust and efficient energy infrastructure. Expected to be completed by late summer or early fall of 2025, the new headquarters will be a cornerstone for the community’s growth and sustainability.

These headquarters updates improve the cooperatives’ operational efficiency and demonstrate their commitment to meeting the evolving needs of their members and communities. As these cooperatives modernize their facilities, they contribute to their region's economic growth and prosperity. These advancements exemplify the crucial role of infrastructure in driving development and supporting local economies.

Here are some highlights of other member-owner cooperatives who have made significant updates to their facilities over the past several years:

  • Lake Country Power: Moved into the Cohasset Industrial Park, anchoring an 80-acre expansion of an existing industrial park in 2019.
  • Kandiyohi Power Cooperative: Built a new facility, repurposing the old building for commercial development.
  • BENCO Electric Cooperative: Recently completed a major retrofit of its headquarters.
  • McLeod Cooperative Power: Recently constructed a new headquarters to serve its members better.
  • Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Electric Association: Purchased an additional 40 acres adjacent to its headquarters, reserving it for economic development. This land is now home to Knute Nelson's Crystal Brook Senior Living facility, representing a significant investment that provides numerous benefits to the community.