A study unveiled during this week’s annual meeting of the Iowa Association of Electric Co-ops will give some reassurance to the R-E-C managers. Their meeting is going on through Friday in Des Moines and the study presents a snapshot of the economic impact of those Rural Electric Cooperatives. Former state economist Harvey Siegelman is now with the Strategic Economics Group which did the study. Electric co-ops serve about half-a-million Iowans and supply about 14-percent of the electric need in the state. He says last year they “impacted” about 900-million worth of spending in the state. Most of that economic activity is what they spent — but the rest is the secondary effects of what they spent, employees spending the payroll dollars at local businesses so the money ripples through the community. Siegelman says that secondary effect is very real, in spending as well as other economic factors. Directly the coops had about 1300 employees but they affect the employment of some 5400, with purchases from employees in local stores and other business in local communities. The other author of the study, ISU economics professor Dan Otto, says the study found the state’s R-E-Cs are changing their focus somewhat. Their mission has changed substantially, he says — their initial role was bringing electricity to rural areas but increasingly the coops are getting involved in conomic development and community development. The RECs help in many cases by making loans to businesses to get started, and Otto says it’s worth their effort. Not only does it help ensure they can sell plenty of electricity, but by furthering economic development they help the population increase and the rural communities thrive…and keep buying electricity. Professor Otto calls it “a win-win for everyone involved.” He sees the role of the RECs remaining important, and notes they’re flourishing throughout the state. They’re in all 99 of Iowa’s counties, involved in economic development activities and they’re an important participant in that effort. The report says the rural electric coops leveraged 29-million dollars in loans and grants into a 110-million-dollar impact on Iowa’s communities…and paid returns to members. Some 500 representatives of 45 RECs are at the annual meeting this week.
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