Consistency and service have been cornerstones for Blue Ridge Electric for 78 years, and counting. In that time, the cooperative team has provided electricity to thousands of customers or members across the Upstate, while maintaining stability at the top of the organization. Earlier this year, Jim Lovinggood became just the third president and CEO the cooperative has had since its establishment in 1940.
From 1982 to 2018, Charles Dalton served as the leader of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. The second employee he hired was Lovinggood, who went on to become vice president of engineering for the cooperative and was named president and CEO 35 years later.
“It feels like I’ve done just about everything here,” says Lovinggood, who started out doing inspections, mapping, and drafting more than three decades ago. “I’ve evolved through the organizational structure and have spent a great deal of time in different departments.
”Blue Ridge is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric-distribution utility that services more than 65,000 people in the Upstate. That’s quite a jump from the 1,680 people it was serving when it began more than 75 years ago. Supplying service to Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens, and Spartanburg counties, Blue Ridge has been a part of the Upstate community as it has grown into what it is today.
“We have 7,000 miles of distribution lines,” Lovinggood says, noting that the knowledge and experience accumulated about the area are essential to Blue Ridge’s success. “We know where everything is located and how all those pieces interconnect.
”Blue Ridge has provided electricity to people in the state’s most-challenging terrain since long before electricity was universally present in residential areas. Since then, the cooperative has developed a reputation for excellent member service and reliability, which can be attributed to the great people at Blue Ridge Electric.
“It’s the culture,” Lovinggood says, noting that the company has long-term employees who have grown with the business, some still on the job after 35 or 40 years. “We talk about this all the time. It’s not just a job—it’s a calling. It goes beyond simply a paycheck and a career. We take it personally when our members are without power.
”With a highly-trained and professional workforce, Blue Ridge has maintained a strong focus on safety. In dealing with a dangerous product in sometimes treacherous terrain, Lovinggood consistently emphasizes safe work practices to his employees, alongside the commitment to deliver quality service to members.
“The key is a combination of safety and efficiency. We supply a dangerous product, and so we have to be careful; but when emergencies strike, we’re going to get people’s electricity back on as quickly as we can.” He notes that Blue Ridge is a knowledge-based utility, using analytics and new technologies to provide electric service more efficiently and safely to those residing in the Upstate. However, it’s the commitment to the organization’s values that has created a positive and successful culture at Blue Ridge Electric. Lovinggood says, “Throughout my 35-year career at Blue Ridge, the values of integrity, accountability, innovation, and commitment have been at the core of all we do.
”In addition to keeping the lights on for members, Blue Ridge has been giving of itself to the community for decades. Its employees have invariably been involved with community events and charity functions, which led them to create their own fundraiser.
“We’ve always given back. We’ve been active in the community for a long time,” says Lovinggood. “We found ourselves at an event almost every weekend, so we decided to host something of our own.” Blue Ridge Fest, now in its 21st year, is an annual fundraiser held at the cooperative’s headquarters in downtown Pickens. It includes the Upstate’s largest classic-car cruise-in and a Beach Night show and dance that attracts as many as 5,000 attendees and up to 600 vintage vehicles from across the Southeast. The fundraiser benefits local charities in the cooperative’s service area and has raised more than $2.5 million for human-help agencies in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee and Pickens counties. This year’s Blue Ridge Fest is scheduled for Friday, May 4.
As Blue Ridge Electric continues its charitable work, it has embarked on a new era as Jim Lovinggood has taken the reins from Charles Dalton. “As we look to the future, it’s my plan to build on the legacy Charles has cultivated over his nearly four decades of service. We’ll continue to focus on serving our members as efficiently and effectively as possible.”