Our Cooperative Response to COVID-19 with Mark Johnston, GM of Mountain Parks Electric
Mark Johnston, General Manager of Mountain Parks Electric, sits down with our host, Bazi Kanani, to discuss how his cooperative has responded to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across our cooperative family, amazing work is being done by our members as business practices have piloted in an effort to tackle challenges related to COVID-19. As part of this series, Bazi Kanani interviews CEOs from our member cooperatives and public power districts to discuss how they are responding during this difficult time.
In the high ski country of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, rural electric co-op Mountain Parks Electric has seen immediate impacts to their local economy due to COVID-19. Mark describes the immediate and severe financial burden this pandemic caused to an economy driven by tourism. Quick thinking and creative solutions has led Mark and his cooperative to support their members, their community as a whole and the essential workers as they continue to overcome.
To learn more about what Mountain Parks Electric is doing in their communities, watch the video below.
Read the Interview Transcript Here
"It's just a way for us as an organization to say thank you for the people that drive the organization and also power our communities." - Mark Johnston
Bazi: In Colorado's high country, Mountain Parks Electric is stepping up to support its community in a time of serious economic strain. During this viral pandemic, we're learning more about how cooperatives like Mountain Parks are responding while making sure vital electricity is something their members can count on.
Joining this video call is Mark Johnston. He is General Manager of Mountain Parks Electric. And Mark, I understand the biggest immediate impact of this pandemic in your area is economic.
Mark: That's right, Bazi. Our economy is driven by tourism and as the tourism started to dwindle, it affected our members, it affected our small businesses and their employees. To give you some perspective, we have about 20 to 30 percent of our jobs tied to tourism in one way or another. A couple days after the Governor's stay-at-home order, our largest employer laid off 1,200 employees, which was a big hit to our community. Delinquency rates historically have Gove up about four times for the past 30 days. Now we expect that, obviously, to continue as the pandemic continues.
Give you another perspective, our local food bank in a year would spend about $75,000 to purchase food. They've spent $37,000 in the last four weeks. In order to be able to deal with the demand, they have ordered as if they were ordering for a normal three-month supply and those have disappeared within about two weeks. And they've done that twice now.
Since the largest amount of food comes in, they need assistance and our employees have gone over and helped them to unload those vans and hopefully keep the shelves stocked. But it's been extremely difficult.
Bazi: And given that very serious economic toll, I understand that there's some things you've been doing trying to provide some financial relief.
Mark: Well as a cooperative, one of our principles is community and our board is committed to that and they have done a number of grants to help the community. The first grant was to the Mountain Family Center that runs the local food bank. They gave them money to help our members pay their electric bills.
Secondly, because of the hard-hit small business community, the second grant was the the Small Business Emergency Fund and that has helped the small businesses pay their electric bills. Interestingly, we did it in three installments and we are almost two-thirds through the money and we only have been operating it for about three weeks.
And lastly, one of the local distilleries, when we started to have a difficult time finding hand sanitizer, were able to make hand sanitizer and they were giving it away to the community. Their revenues were down by 65 percent, so our board stepped in and gave them a grant that helped them produce the hand sanitizer and then give it away for free.
Bazi: And you just mentioned your board there. I noticed on your Facebook page, you were able to post your last board meeting online since it was held via videoconference. And I also noticed there's been a number of other great posts on Facebook related to this COVID crisis.
Mark: Well I think we're all operating in a new environment and that was a challenge for us initially, posting that online, but our board members needed to be socially distanced. And one of the other things that we decided to do was to post a video telling our members that we're still here. We're still here to serve them.
We have ways that, even though our offices are closed, that they can interact with us through the internet, through the drive-up and over the telephone. We have waived a number of fees to help make it easier for them to be able to actually pay their bills. And just to give them that reassurance that as their local electric cooperative, we're still here for them.
The other thing that we decided to do is a series of videos that thanked the essential workers in our community. We see on TV a lot of times people thanking doctors and first responders. We wanted to go beyond that. We have a local teacher at the high school that's using a 3D printer to print masks for first responders. We have local food banks, not just ht one that we have supported, but others that are providing food to the community. We have the Community Health Director for the county that was able to post one of those videos. And it's just a way for us as an organization to say thank you for the people that drive the organization and also power our communities.
Bazi: We are all so thankful for those essential workers right now. Mark Johnston is with Mountain Parks Electric. Thanks for your time today, Marl.
Mark: Thank you.
COVID-19 Community Response
As a family of electric cooperatives and public power districts, our distribution members reach consumers at the end of the line, many of whom have been directly impacted by COVID-19. To learn about our response, how are members are responding and the amazing work being done in communities across the West, watch our videos and read the articles here.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 46 members, including 43 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.