In the early 2000s, the small college town of Hillsdale, Michigan, was struggling under the weight of the looming recession. Automotive and tool and die companies were either pulling out of town or going under. Utility rates were going up. Wes Kelley knew he had to act.
Wes was second in command at Hillsdale’s utility company. He jumped into the economic development side of things to see what businesses he could bring back to the area to help stabilize rates for customers.
His foray into community development wasn’t something higher ups in utility companies normally do, but Wes knew he had customers to take care of. If that meant bringing bigger industries into the area, so be it.
“I appreciate the value and importance of economic development in keeping the community strong and thriving.”
To break it down, residential customers use water and electricity early in the morning and again at night. Large businesses, however, have a consistent energy use throughout the day. Those big businesses are what anchor utility companies. More companies means lower utility prices for everyone.
“… those large businesses help control the cost for the utilities,” Wes said. “They help the utility have a strong financial foundation; and for that reason, we are always trying to bring industry and bring large commercial enterprises into our systems.”
If that sounds like something you’d like to see in Huntsville, you’re in luck. For the past 20 years, Wes has been focused on customer service. He’s worked in Michigan and Tennessee, but now he’s bringing his expertise to the heart of the valley.
On May 30, Wes will take over as the CEO of Huntsville Utilities. His experiences in technology and economic development mean he will be working to bring new businesses to the area and keeping those businesses happy.
“I was attracted to the community because of its economic vitality, and I look forward to continuing to involve Huntsville Utilities in activities and projects that bring strong businesses into the community,” Wes said.
Dedication to Customer Service
Here’s the thing about Huntsville Utilities—you don’t get to shop around for the best price. If you live in most parts of Madison County, you must have Huntsville Utilities to get water and power to your house. That’s why it’s key that the company be committed to customer service. They have a monopoly on the industry, so it’s a moral code that compels them to take care of the business and residential customers.
“Our customers don’t get to pick us, and we don’t get to pick our customers,” Wes said. “We’re in it together. That means when we make decisions, we have to stay focused on what is best for all customers, what is going to be the best course of action that keeps the overall cost of our services down. When we can, we try to help individual customers but without taking our eye off of … the impact to all customers.”
Wes remembers one customer in Tennessee who came into his office with a lengthy list of complaints. She was a mother—someone who had fallen on hard times—and needed a sit-down with one of the higher ups.
“She was struggling to be heard,” Wes said. “She just wanted (to know) that someone understood her situation and where she was coming from. We just sat down and talked. … There was so much emotion wrapped around it that we just had to talk it through and sort of build communication with one another where we could get to the problem and realize there really wasn’t much of a problem there.”
Wes has countless stories like this. He’s been one of the top executives at several utility companies, but he always has time to sit down with customers. Wes is a parent, so he understands the pressure facing his customers to provide for their families. He said his priority is keeping the heart of the customer in mind every day.
“If we don’t keep the customer at the forefront of our thoughts in every decision, then we are not meeting our full requirement,” Wes said. “We are there to provide service to the people of Huntsville and Madison County.”
Moving Huntsville Forward
There are a lot of big projects coming up for Huntsville and the surrounding communities—the partnership with Google Fiber and the Home Energy Efficiency Makeover just to name a few. Wes says he is going to “jump on the speeding train” of initiatives that are already underway at Huntsville Utilities.
“I actually started in IT and technology and have always been looking for how to leverage technology to benefit traditional utility systems and structures,” Wes said. “I am excited by what I see already happening at Huntsville Utilities.”
Wes also is excited about the energy efficiency programs available to Huntsville Utility customers. Instead of offering a handout, programs like the Home Energy Efficiency Makeover lower a customer’s bill by making their homes more energy efficient.
Click here to read the story of a woman who got an energy makeover from Huntsville Utilities.
“I think that’s part of our moral responsibility … to help the customer wherever we can to use those resources wisely so they can keep their costs down.”
For Wes, coming back to Huntsville is like coming home. He was born in Gadsden and is ready for his southern phrases to make sense again. His wife is from Michigan and doesn’t understand all the Alabama colloquialisms. That’s okay. We’ll understand you here.
Welcome home, Wes.
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