Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) and TVA were founded on a mission to serve — through reliable and affordable energy, a safe and protected environment and thriving economic development. SVEC provides energy to more than 37,000 member-owners in Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee.
Lodge Manufacturing Growth
If you added Lodge cast iron cookware to your lockdown kitchen, you contributed to economic growth in southeast Tennessee. “Lodge Manufacturing was able to invest in their facility because they had a great financial year in 2020,” Shelby Hargis Potterfield, vice president of marketing and communications at SVEC said.
The 125-year old company is expanding their operations in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, located in Marion County with a $56 million investment that will improve production—and create 239 jobs. To make this project come to fruition, SVEC and TVA partnered with Lodge, city and county government entities and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
SVEC’s economic development efforts and partnerships also led to Mueller Company’s growth. After working on their behalf with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, county government and the Southeast Industrial Development Association (SEIDA), in late 2019, Mueller added a facility in Kimball. As a result, they invested $40 million and added 325 jobs to the region.
Valmont Utility Welding Work Based Learning (WBL) Pre-Apprenticeship Program
“When SVEC president and CEO Mike Partin found out that Valmont was starting a welding pre-apprenticeship program for Marion County high school students, he was the one of the first to reach out to help,” Valmont Industries human resources manager Carri Smith said.
SVEC and SEIDA donated $10,000 to the Valmont Utility WBL Pre-Apprenticeship Program, which they used to purchase a freestanding building for the training classroom. Now in its third year, they provide hands on training by professionals, work-based learning credits toward graduation and hourly pay.
“We want it to be as close to a real world experience as possible,” Smith said. “To get accepted, a student needs to be recommended by their principal, guidance counselor and a teacher. They also have to interview.”
Participants can earn welding certification and have a direct career path to either an apprenticeship alongside coursework at Chattanooga State, or a full-time job. Smith said, “Valmont has already hired eight graduates straight out of high school. We have a ton of jobs open with the recent expansion. Here, they can make a living wage and help support their families at a young age.”
In a region that once lacked opportunities—especially in the rural areas—the manufacturing industry boom presents a significant shift. “When we see our students succeed and the next generation doing better, we see our socioeconomic classes here change,” Smith said.
“If they do not end up back at Valmont, that is okay. We’re working on preparing them to be good employees wherever they end up,” she said.
Skylar Ramsey, Marion County High School graduate said, “Everything that I learned working at Valmont for my pre-apprenticeship really got me in the door to my current job at Metalworking Solutions. I can thank my high school welding instructor Mr. (Marty) Bishop and every one of the guys at Valmont that never failed to help and the program I was lucky enough to be a part of. It gave me a glimpse of what working in the real world was like, and what I could look forward to doing after high school.”
“I enjoyed the chance to get see what those guys do every day. The majority of the time we were actually out on the floor doing hands on work, shadowing with our mentor Roy Keahey—welding trainer and other employees, which was neat because you got to see the different ways everyone did the same job,” Ramsey said.
Smith said, “When veterans who have been on the job for many years work alongside the students and are able to transfer their craft, there’s a lot of pride in that. It can show young people they already have everything within them to be successful.”
Ramsey said, “I honestly didn’t think I was even doing well enough in class to have that opportunity until Mr. Bishop let me know I was one of the few students that got in.”
“Skylar turned out to be one of the best in the program. She was determined and set a good example for the rest of her peers, without question. Skylar is making her own way and will continue to succeed,” Smith said.
“We’ve heard from parents and teachers how this program has changed their students’ lives. They come home every day excited. They were more engaged at school and could focus on their studies. Some who questioned whether they would finish school went on to graduate,” Smith said.
And for Ramsey, the excitement is still there. “After high school, I took a year off from welding because I wasn’t quite sure that it was what I wanted to do full time, but after that year was up I missed the thrill that I got every time I lay down a good bead,” she said.
“The pre-apprenticeship is a great example of what collaborations and partnerships can do—and how powerful these programs can be in someone’s life,” Smith said.
SVEC also sponsors and participates in the monthly Greater Marion County Manufacturers Association meeting where industry partners including Valmont, school systems and other cooperatives gather to find ways to build a sustainable workforce in Tennessee.
And it all comes full circle for students who earn welding certifications and are assigned to build utility structures for one of Valmont’s valued clients—TVA.
A Way for Everyone to Pitch In
Small change can add up—especially when a whole community is invited to contribute. Members can round up their electric bill payments to chip in to the SVEC Cares fund. Since 2000, these micro donations have added up to $2.9 million, which SVEC has distributed throughout the community to volunteer fire departments, food banks and health clinics. In the early days of the pandemic, SVEC was able to allocate monies to COVID-19 relief, which they combined with TVA Community Care grants to make an even bigger impact.