APPA’s Ditto, Governor Noem highlight historic Summer Conference

Since its origin in 2006, the Heartland Summer Conference has grown to become our premier customer event.

This year’s conference was no exception. Nationally-recognized keynote speakers, record attendees and a brand launch led to an event of historic proportions.

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APPA CEO shares industry update

American Public Power Association’s Joy Ditto gave the first keynote address. As CEO of public power’s national trade organization, Ditto advocates before the federal government to protect public power utilities and the people they serve.

After providing a brief background of the public power model, Ditto shared an update on APPA’s latest activities. Specifically, she discussed the regulatory, agency and industry topics on which APPA is currently focusing its attention.

Included among these are climate change regulations, grid security, federal Power Marketing Administration issues, and more. The Investment and Jobs Act infrastructure bill is also of particular interest, and Ditto said the agency is closely monitoring its implementation.

Finally, Ditto highlighted how APPA is planning for the future, including keeping up with an evolving industry. She shared challenges utilities are facing across the nation and how they are meeting customer expectations.

According to Ditto, APPA is working to create more opportunities in a variety of manners. The agency is seeking to better educate policy makers, leverage federal dollars and resources, share knowledge and resources across more platforms, and develop and maintain partnerships, all for the benefit of public power utilities.

Ditto’s Slide Deck

Joy Ditto speaks at podium

Governor Noem touts partnership

Another nationally-recognized leader took the stage following Joy Ditto. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem provided a keynote address in her first visit to the Heartland Summer Conference.

Noem spoke about Heartland Energy’s storied partnership with the state in promoting economic development. She said Heartland has been “incredibly powerful” in helping create opportunities for growth, allowing the state to be “extremely innovative in the proposals we put together.”

She praised Heartland Energy for providing businesses with more than power supply: consistency, certainty and long-term planning.

Noem also spoke about the energy industry and its impact on South Dakota. She said she’s been working with a coalition of Republican governors to weigh in on policies proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Noem said it’s critically important that the state–and nation–focuses on having adequate infrastructure in place with assurance it’s affordable for every single family.

Kristi Noem speaks at podium

Christensen shares development tips

Rounding out the speaker lineup was Brent Christensen of Madelia, MN. 

Christensen is the president and CEO of Christensen Communications Company, an Independent Local Exchange Carrier. He’s also the co-founder of the Madelia Area Redevelopment Corporation, or MARC.

The organization was created to spur economic development in the eastern half of Watonwan County, MN. It also became instrumental in Madelia’s recovery after a community-changing event.

In the early hours of February 3, 2016, a massive explosion and fire wiped out multiple businesses along Madelia’s Main Street. In response, MARC along with other organizations, businesses and residents rallied together to rebuild and restore.

Christensen shared his community’s story including their recovery action plan and lessons learned. He also discussed how local leaders focus on what he calls the three parts of economic development: retaining jobs, creating jobs and fostering collaboration.

According to Christensen, Madelia thrives because of various efforts to promote local business programs and improve communications, recruit start-ups and telecommuters, and create and foster cooperation and teamwork throughout the business community.

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Afternoon entertainment enjoyed by all

As always, the Summer Conference is capped off with an afternoon of entertainment and networking opportunities.

Sixty-two golfers participated in the annual Heartland Invitational golf tournament at the Madison Golf & Country Club. Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree captained the winning team, which also included Matthew McCaulley, SD Senator Kent Peterson and SD Representative Will Mortenson.

Other guests opted to enjoy a boat tour of Lake Madison.

CEO’s Report: Annual Meeting features speakers on crypto mining, other industry topics

Heartland’s Annual Meeting is coming up next week on Thursday, April 14.

I always look forward to this meeting because it gives us the opportunity to broach a variety of topics relevant to our industry. We also get to throw in some speakers who will hopefully motivate and inspire you.

While we know there are numerous industry topics of importance, we also want you to walk away better equipped to serve your customers, your families, and your community.

This year’s meeting features both education and inspiration and I would strongly encourage anyone associated with the electric utility to attend.

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Our first speaker is Mike Ferguson, who serves as general manager of Western States Power Corporation. Heartland has been a member of this organization for years, but not many people know what it is or what it does.

Mike will give an overview of Western States as well as explain how Heartland’s membership benefits you, our customers.

Mike has spent over 30 years working in the federal power program. His expertise includes the management and oversight of power generating facilities.

What is crypto mining?

Next up is Brett Somsen, vice president of BigTop Mining Co. You’ve probably heard of crypto mining and may have even received an inquiry from a company looking to locate in your community. But do you know what it is?

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Typically, anything related to cryptocurrency raises more questions than answers. Brett has been involved in crypto for over five years and his company recently turned on their first crypto miners in Howard, SD.

Fitch recently outlined public power supply risks tied to cryptocurrency mining, stating it is “energy intensive and requires a considerable amount of power that can significantly increase a utility’s overall electric load.”

Fitch noted that “utilities must balance the revenue prospect of increased electrical sales with the commitment to procure or generate large amounts of power for crypto mining operations.”

Crypto miners look at various factors when choosing where to locate. The climate in the Mid-West is attractive as well as lower energy rates.

Heartland has worked with customers where miners are looking to locate. We recognize the risks associated with these loads and are able to help customers mitigate those risks through proper planning.

Brett will shine light on why this process uses so much energy and discuss the long-term future of mining.

Entertainment & Inspiration

Finally, the meeting will wrap up with professional speaker V.J. Smith. If you’ve never heard V.J. speak, you are in for a treat. He is the author of the bestselling book, “The Richest Man in Town.”

headshot of professional speaker V.J. Smith

V.J. has been a professional speaker for mor than twenty years. He is also a member of the South Dakota Senate and resides in Brookings, SD.

He has given more than 2,500 presentations from coast to coast, border to border. He has traveled more than a million miles and spoken to more than a million people.

Before becoming a full-time professional speaker, V.J. spent 25 years of his working life in various management roles at both a Fortune 100 Company and at South Dakota State University.

I promise you will leave feeling lighter and ready to take on anything that may come your way after hearing V.J.

Networking a bonus

While we take pride in lining up a worthwhile panel of excellent speakers, a bonus to any event is the opportunity to mingle with fellow public power employees, Heartland staff and board members.

We often learn just as much from each other as we do from the speakers. Heartland continues to see many new faces in our customer communities and I look forward to meeting everyone.

Finally, you’ll have the chance to vote for members of Heartland’s Customer Connections Committee. This committee provides a formal channel for customers to provide feedback to Heartland. Three positions are open on the nine-member committee.

I hope you will join us on April 14 in Madison. Check your Inbox for the invite and RSVP today.

2021 Heartland Winter Conference

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CEO’s Report: Heartland’s Summer Conference returns

This year’s Summer Conference was one for the record books, and I’m not talking about the high temperatures.

After taking a year off due to COVID-19, we came back this year at a new venue. We tried out the new tent offered by the Best Western Plus Lakeview Hotel in Madison. While those wearing sport coats may have regretted their decision, it went off without a hitch.

I was thoroughly impressed by our line up of speakers. What is maybe most impressive is that all of them volunteered their time to share their expertise and wisdom with us.

Something that struck me was that several of our speakers thanked us. They thanked us for giving them the opportunity to speak. Did I mention we didn’t pay any of them? Shouldn’t we be the ones thanking them?

I think their thanks speaks to the high caliber crowd we entertain. Our customers are top notch. You come ready to listen and willing to learn. You make the speakers feel welcomed and appreciated.

Each speaker brought something valuable to the table. Kecia Beranek and Brooke Rollag are true champions in their communities. Their drive to make their communities better is admirable.

They are promoting the places they call home, the places they love. What better advocates than people living, working, and raising their families there?

Terry Schultz is also a champion for his community. He has made multiple investments in Madison and continues to advocate for growth. He has utilized Heartland programs and promotes them to others.

Ryan Budmayr is a true professional. His marketing insights were tips anyone can use. You don’t have to work in an advertising firm to promote your town.

Finally, Andrew Kramer and Lee Ann Wheeler offered simple and valuable tools we can all easily implement to protect us from cyber attacks and help us know what to do if we are compromised.

Networking proves invaluable

Of course, for many, the best part of the day is the afternoon social activities. The networking involved in a round of golf or boat ride proves invaluable.

We welcomed several legislators to the event as well as staff from our Congressional delegation’s offices. There were several other special guests in attendance including HELP Fund loan recipients, PUC commissioners, lobbyists, economic development professionals and industry partners.

Getting the chance to visit with these folks one on one doesn’t happen often and we are proud we can pull our customers together with these key individuals for some valuable interaction.

Most of the customers Heartland serves are small, rural communities. The same person often wears many hats, as is certainly the case for Kecia and Brooke. While no one can be an expert on every topic, having a network of individuals with expertise in different areas gives you someone to reach out to with questions when you don’t have the answer yourself.

While every community is different, they are also similar. Every community must tackle projects from electrical upgrades to street projects to wastewater and the list goes on. If you are thinking of tackling a project, chances are, another Heartland community has already done it. Events like our Summer Conference give you the chance to visit with those folks and put a name with a face next time you want to reach out.

We hope everyone took something valuable away from the conference. If you weren’t able to attend and have questions about any of the presentations, please let us know.

I look forward to seeing you at our next event.

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CEO’s Report: Meeting customers’ needs

With COVID-19 controlling what most of us did throughout 2020, there wasn’t as much opportunity to interact with customers as we’d like.

Now that many activities and events are returning to normal, we once again can meet in person and connect.

Annual Meeting offers valuable tools, insight

Heartland is excited to host our Annual Meeting May 12 after cancelling the event last year due to the pandemic.

We have an excellent speaker lined up. Mike Oster grew up in rural South Dakota and uses his many life experiences to speak on leadership, teamwork, and motivation.

While not everyone may see value in these topics, I challenge you to think again.

We all serve in leadership positions. All too often the words leadership and management get confused. All managers are not leaders and all leaders are not managers.

Anyone can be a leader, no matter your position. Maybe there is something in your community you’d like to see happen, or an idea you want to come to fruition. It takes leadership to get things done.

Successful communities are full of leaders who turn ideas into reality.

Leaders are excellent communicators. As a public power utility, you interact with consumers every day. While not all those interactions are positive, Mike provides tools and resources to make them more meaningful. The idea is to help build positive relationships through more effective communication.

I encourage you to take a day from the office to listen to Mike. I guarantee you will walk away with at least one valuable tool. You will also have the chance to vote for new members of the Customer Connections Committee.

The committee has been creative over the past year, meeting mostly virtually to share ideas. Workforce continues to be a struggle for many Heartland customers and the committee is looking for creative ways to help recruit quality employees. It is important for your community to cast a vote to elect members.

You’ll also have plenty of time to visit with other customers and Heartland staff. It’s a great time to share ideas and ask questions.

Although our RSVP deadline has passed, you can still join us. Simply reach out to Danielle Kearin or Ann Hyland and let them know you want to attend. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Addressing critical needs

Heartland offers a variety of programs for the benefit of customers. We pride ourselves on making these relevant to the communities we serve. However, needs are constantly changing, and we do our best to keep up.

With input from the Customer Connections Committee, we announced a new workforce development program at the end of 2020 to help customers tackle the hiring challenges many industries are facing.

Many in the public power sector are nearing retirement and replacements are needed. The areas of power line construction and maintenance seem to be the biggest concern, but customers are also seeing the retirement of finance officers and administrative staff.

Heartland developed a flexible program to aid customers in training and attracting new hires.

A few customers have already taken advantage of the program to offer hiring bonuses and assist with education costs. I encourage you to get in touch with Kelly Dybdahl if you foresee hiring new employees and would like more details.

Education is key

It is important for not just staff but mayors and city or utility commission personnel to understand our programs. We are happy to visit with anyone about the details to ensure communities can take full advantage.

Even if you have been given the rundown of the programs already, we’re happy to do it again. There is a lot of information to cover. Don’t ever hesitate to give us a call if you have questions.

One area I’d like to receive more focus is cybersecurity.

Public power utilities provide essential services. A few months ago, hackers broke into a city’s SCADA system in Florida to poison their water supply. They exploited the city’s outdated operating system and weak passwords to gain access.

Examples like this show hackers aren’t always looking for monetary gain. Significant damage can be inflicted without ever accessing account numbers. Utility and city personnel need to be on high alert and prepare for such instances.

Heartland works with industry partners to provide professional services to ensure your utility is secure. Utilizing these services now could prevent a devastating attack later, and the cost will be far less.

Contact Ann Hyland at Heartland for more information.

Suggestions welcome

We will continue offering programs and services that will make an impact on your community. However, if you would like to see a change to a program or have an idea for a new one, pleas let us know. No one knows better than you what would offer your community the most benefit.

In addition to our Annual Meeting, we are already gearing up for our Summer Conference, scheduled for July 27. We are excited to bring this event back to Madison, utilizing event space offered by the Best Western Plus. We are working on lining up some excellent speakers to help spark ideas for community growth and prosperity.

I look forward to seeing you at our Annual Meeting on the 12th and getting the chance to visit in person again.

CEO’s Report: Promoting the unique features of your community

With Independence Day just around the corner, it reminds me that summer is a fleeting season. I for one can never get enough warm days and sunshine. I certainly don’t feel the same about cold winter days, but that’s just me.

This summer certainly hasn’t been a typical one, but nothing has been typical since the beginning of March. As we try to regain a sense of normalcy in our lives, Heartland is excited to announce we are planning to host our Summer Conference on August 12.

We are holding the event a little later than normal and will certainly take precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers and other guests. After cancelling our Annual Meeting due to COVID-19, I look forward to seeing everyone and providing useful information while having a little fun.

The Summer Conference is one of most popular events, and it isn’t just because we play a round of golf in the afternoon.

We strive to make the morning conference useful for all attendees. With a diverse customer base, that isn’t always easy, but most Heartland customers are rural communities with many things in common.

I believe anyone who attends will take something useful away.

Promoting your community

The focus of this year’s conference will be how to effectively promote your community. While each community is unique, many face similar challenges and our goal is to provide tips to help you shine your town in the best light possible to attract not only business, but residents as well.

Our customer communities have a lot to offer and no one can tell their stories better than the very people already living there.

If you do have room for expansion, what would make someone want to bring their business to your town other than the standard advantages of low taxes and utility rates?

In a pile of papers full of communities looking to attract the same business, what makes yours stand out?

Those are questions we hope to answer, as well as provide insight on how you can best promote Heartland’s economic development incentives. We want to be your partner in development and work together to offer every advantage.

Something for everyone

No matter the size of your community, opportunity abounds, and the goal of the Summer Conference is to help you capitalize on the opportunities specific to your area.

Heartland customer communities are full of examples of dreams becoming reality and we have been fortunate to be part of many of those success stories. Rural communities are finding ways to create gathering spaces, provide services and amenities and entice new businesses as well as new residents.

With so many good things happening, we are always excited to bring in folks from those communities to share how they keep their communities moving forward. There is no better education than a “how-to” from someone who has already seen a project through from beginning to end.

You don’t have to be an economic development expert to attend. You simply have to be passionate about your community and want to see it thrive. We’ll do our best to help do just that.

Quality of life

Why do you live where you live? Were you born there? Did you move there for a job?

Perhaps the most important question is: Why do you stay?

Quality of life is an important component of economic development that often gets lost in the conversation. That may be because it is a harder thing to measure and may not be as apparent as a new business setting up shop on Main Street.

Quality of life is what makes people want to call a place home. It is the amenities provided in a community that promote well-being and satisfaction. A good quality of life will mean different things to different people, but can include access to quality healthcare, education, and housing as well as a low crime rate and other amenities such as entertainment venues and parks.

These things are all important because they go hand in hand with job creation. You want the people working in your community also living in your community. You can also entice people who work elsewhere if your town offers all the comforts they’re looking for.

Our conference will get you thinking about your community from the outside looking in. You’ll see your community in a new light, helping to effectively promote all the unique qualities it has to offer.

See you in August

If you have never attended the Heartland Summer Conference, I highly encourage you to check it out this year. Whether you work for the city, are the mayor, council person, or involved in economic development, I promise you will walk away with some useful tips and advice.

At the very least, you will get to meet with Heartland staff and talk to others from communities that are probably facing some of the same challenges as yours.

I hope to see you in August and until then, enjoy the warm summer days ahead.

Situational awareness training highlights Winter Conference

Guest instructor shares tips to identify, avoid, reduce or mitigate hostile situations

Safety is paramount for utility workers. From investing in protective equipment to training and standards, utilities go the extra mile to ensure their workers go home at the end of the day.

Now, a growing problem in the United States is driving utilities to prepare employees for a new threat: hostile events.

Active shooter events and dangerous encounters are unpredictable and evolve quickly. In these situations, training and preparation are critical.

Heartland’s recent Winter Conference focused on this training with the help of professional speaker Stefan V. Salmonson, president of PROtective Services, Inc.,

Training crucial for workplace safety

Salmonson is a licensed deputy sheriff/tactical trainer, licensed private detective, international security consultant, experienced tactical specialist, contract government investigator, airline transport pilot and more. He and his team have provided executive and personal protection services, security related training and assessments, and consulting and risk management recommendations for hundreds of clients nationwide.

During his presentation, Salmonson defined and provided examples of hostile events, such as workplace violence, active shooters or angry customer encounters. He detailed how to spot potentially dangerous situations and modify your behavior for best response.

He also shared tips and best practices for utilities to implement at their workplace to help reduce risk.

“There was a lot of good information to absorb,” said Donna Klinkhammer, deputy finance officer for the city of Howard, SD. “Hopefully the city [of Howard] can implement some of his suggestions.”

Sponsors, attendance lead to successful event

Following the morning presentation, attendees enjoyed lunch and headed outdoors for the annual pheasant hunt. The group was also treated to dinner for additional networking with Heartland and industry professionals.

Now in its seventh year, Heartland’s Winter Conference offers insight on topics related to utility operations, such as safety, key accounts or load management. This year’s program targeted all utility employees and drew a record turnout.

“Our customer utilities have a long-standing commitment to workplace safety,” said Heartland CEO Russell Olson. “Our Winter Conference aims to bolster this commitment by offering resources and training in a fun, relaxed environment.”

The event was made possible by a number of sponsors, including Duncan Weinberg Genzer & Pembroke, Tenaska, Bockorny Group, ISG Inc., NextEra Energy, Omni-Pro Software, Inc., DGR Engineering, Duncan Law Firm, GDS Associates, Fredrikson & Byron, and Dougherty & Company, LLC.

2019 Summer Conference packed with information, activities

Heartland’s annual Summer Conference continues to be a customer favorite. This year’s event featured a legislative panel as well as discussions on capital improvement planning, federal community development programs and local success stories.

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CEO’s Report: Steady rates for 2019

Every year we spend a few days traveling to various customer communities to discuss Heartland’s budget for the upcoming year. This year was no different as we held meetings in Madelia, MN as well as Langford and Madison, SD.

Having meetings in multiple locations allows for smaller groups and a more relaxed and informal atmosphere. I look forward to these meetings each year because of the interaction they afford.

Heartland Chief Financial Officer Mike Malone reviewed the 2019 budget at Madison’s meeting.

I especially look forward to them when we have good news to share.

Heartland is once again planning for steady rates in 2019.

When we adopted our strategic plan in 2016, one of our three long-term goals was to stabilize rates.

The sale of one of our longest-held assets, our share of the Missouri Basin Power Project, namely our 51 MW ownership share of Laramie River Station, plays the biggest role in providing long-term rate stability.

Additionally, we are seeing unprecedented growth within our customer communities, thanks, in part, to help from our economic development incentives.

We have provided over $50,000 in grant funding in 2018 alone to our customer communities to assist with updating infrastructure, facilitate housing developments and residential construction, aid in community marketing efforts and perform economic development studies.

Our Energy ONE incentive gained significant traction in 2018, earning media attention along the way and further increasing its reach. Both small and large customers alike were able to take advantage of the special pricing designed to entice large loads.

In Akron, IA, the city’s largest customer, L.G. Everist, will be utilizing the rate for their electric dredge expansion. In Howard, SD, Quality Custom Meats remodeled a previously closed facility, created over 20 jobs and will be utilizing the Energy ONE rate for their meat processing operation.

Kraft Heinz in New Ulm, MN completed a $100 million expansion which added 50 new jobs and 4 new production lines. The incentive will help keep costs down, allowing them to provide greater value to their customers. A multi million-dollar facility broke ground in Volga, SD in May of this year. Prairie AquaTech will add 35 employees to their new plant where they will make a protein-rich ingredient used in fish feed.

Smaller group meetings in Madelia, pictured, and Langford allow for a more informal atmosphere and one-on-one discussion.

While we may have checked many boxes with the sale of LRS, it does not mean we will be sitting back. We will continue seeking new opportunities to reduce costs and will pursue additional load. We will continue working with our customers to help them grow and look for new opportunities. We will keep working hard to ensure a bright future for Heartland and our customers.

I am genuinely excited about what the future holds for Heartland and for our customers. We appreciate your support in getting to this point and value our relationships. We look forward to fulfilling our vision of being a trusted leader and partner of choice while adding value to the communities we serve.

We will also continue to operate by our motto, the power of forward thinking – strategically planning and making decisions today for a sound and stable future while serving as a reliable partner.

We look forward to another successful year.

2018 Summer Conference combines work + play

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