South Central Power

Digital divide

Kyle Hicks sat at his computer at his Lancaster-area home, the homework assignment for his College Credit Plus course due in a few hours. He knew he was cutting it close.

Like a vast number of people in rural areas of Ohio and the rest of the nation, Hicks and his family have limited access to high-speed internet. The one company that provides broadband service where he lives promises connection speeds “up to 5 megabits per second,” but he says tests on the line show it’s rarely above 1 Mbps. What’s more, service in his area, even at that level, is expensive.

Satellite broadband could be an option but costs even more.

Couple sitting outside BrewDog's Doghouse

In the Doghouse

It wasn’t too long ago that the area along Gender Road, south of Route 33 near the Franklin-Fairfield county line, was farmland as far as the eye could see. There was the bucolic village of Canal Winchester nearby and Columbus just a bit farther up the road.

Soon came a taproom-style restaurant and then, in 2018, a 32-room hotel called the DogHouse that has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Greatest Places to Stay.”

It’s clear from the very start that an overnight stay at the BrewDog complex is not your everyday experience. Here, dogs are welcome (in some of the guest rooms), beer is a celebration, and ingenuity is everywhere.

Suburban Columbus

Rural-to-suburban shift

Since electric co-ops were first established during the 1930s, they have served mainly rural areas of the United States.

“We continually beat the drum among our members about what the co-op is,” says Phil Caskey, president and CEO of Consolidated Cooperative, which serves eight counties in north-central Ohio. Caskey says that many residents of suburban areas, as well as former suburbanites who move into rural areas, are unaware of the differences between electric co-ops and large, privately owned electric utilities. In addition, rural co-op members tend to have a better understanding of the co-op’s place in the community, he says.

Small plants emerge from leaves

Ramping it up

The pursuit of fortune often leads people far from home. Sometimes, however, Lady Luck shows up unannounced literally right in your own backyard.

In 1976, David and Jane Kunkler purchased 40 rural acres in Perry County at a sheriff’s sale, built a home, and moved in. “The land had been uninhabited since 1888,” David Kunkler says. “A family by the name of Elder last lived on it. The husband and wife raised 13 children here.”

A man grabbing an apple on a tree.

Apples: Everybody has a favorite

Clusters of apples begin to decorate trees in Dennis Thatcher’s orchard throughout each spring and early summer, promising the reward of sweet fruit and jugs of freshly pressed cider in the fall.

Thatcher and his wife, Angela, who reside in rural western Logan County and who are members of Logan County Electric Cooperative, established Thatcher Farm in 1972, when he planted a few apple trees. Today, the farm has more than 420 trees that produce 25 varieties.

An individual hands back a card to a woman standing next to her daughter.

Keeping the connection: Co-ops find new ways to communicate

Somewhere among the archives belonging to Pioneer Electric Cooperative in Piqua is buried a postcard from a member notifying the cooperative that the power was out at his home.

“…So, the next time that you are out here, please check it out,” says Nanci McMaken, paraphrasing the document. McMaken, vice president and chief communications officer at Pioneer Electric, has seen lots of changes during her 36 years at the co-op, which serves 16,700 members in Champaign, Shelby, and Miami counties — but methods of communication has been a big one.

Dave and Danielle Buschur smile together for a photo.

Economic partners: Co-ops spur growth in their communities

Dave Buschur saw the opportunity for his business; he just wasn’t sure he could take advantage of it. Buschur is president of Buschur’s Custom Farm Service in Maria Stein, which, among other services, hauls poultry, swine, manure, and grain for area farmers.

“We saw a need for a bio-secure automatic washing facility for trucks and trailers,” Buschur says. “It’s not a requirement, it’s just good practice to decontaminate after every run — you sure don’t want to be the reason anyone’s birds get sick — and there’s nothing else like this around for 500 miles.”