Andy Johns headshot
Andy Johns

Utility Pioneers Vote for Stable Storytelling, Receive Record Returns on Cooperation

Stories grow stronger as they are shared.

The stories of Utility Pioneers across the nation shined on May 19 at the member meeting for Pioneer Utility Resources, a communications co-op built to share the stories of community-owned utilities.

“Over the last few years we’ve built Pioneer into a stronger tool to develop your story, support solid storytelling and share your story with consumers,” says Scott Peters, CEO of Columbia Rural Electric Association in Washington and board chair for Pioneer’s board of directors.

During the virtual meeting, staff and co-op member voiced how Pioneer meets shared needs. The co-op announced a record member patronage return of $457,000, provided board election results and welcomed 31 new co-op members.

“Thank you for trusting us to share, support and develop your story,” Pioneer CEO Michael Shepard told attendees. “We look forward to continuing to serve you so you can shine in your communities.”

Meeting Highlights

Built to Share Your Story

  • Pioneer’s magazines are a vital tool for sharing utility and broadband stories with more than 1 million rural Americans some months. We launched both new brands and strengthened existing consumer publications in 16 states.
  • Our Powerful Web program helped 33 utility and broadband organizations launch dynamic websites last year.
  • Pioneer's digital campaigns drove 8.2 million impressions in 2021, creating more than 33,000 clicks for our members and clients. That’s a rate almost 6 times better than the national average.
  • NEW: Pioneer Studio allows utility communicators to choose from more than 400 pieces of marketing and communications collateral, customized with a click.

Built to Support Your Story

As your story evolves, Pioneer’s communication tools are ready to meet new needs. Throughout 2021, we continued to merge together the best parts of the support services offered individually by ARC Media, Pioneer and WordSouth.

  • Utilities enrolled in Pioneer Social saw a total of 97,426,531 impressions, an increase of 7.4% over 2020. Pioneer Social’s 5.4% engagement rate far outpaced the national average of 0.07%.
  • Pioneer's TwoFourSeven social monitoring team stationed in Hawaii, Spain, England, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington, Virginia and Nevada monitored more than 196,000 social media comments in 2021.
  • NEW: The TwoFourSeven Response program for broadband utilities will arrive by 2023.
  • As more cooperatives allow online membership elections, Pioneer Votes is well-positioned as a trusted voting platform. We’ve added instantly customizable content promoting your annual meeting and online voting through Pioneer Studio, and a new Pioneer Votes interface debuts in late 2022.
  • We supported Utility Pioneers with eight broadband utility campaigns and new brand launches in 2022.
  • Pioneer's staff helped WK&T Telecommunications document damage and communicate through a crisis when a deadly tornado devastated Mayfield, Kentucky.
  • The Efficiency Services Group team continued efforts to support BPA utilities in the Northwest adapt to pandemic conditions by shipping thousands of customer care kits.

Built to Develop Your Story

Pioneer takes the fifth co-op principle, Education, Training and Information, to heart. We help communicators at utilities and broadband providers across the nation develop stories.

  • Our NewsData team of independent journalists starts each day with the goal of delivering news and information about energy markets that you can’t get anywhere else. In 2022, NewsData celebrates 40 years of covering energy news.
  • Customer service training, energy efficiency training and broadband basics training adapted to changing guidelines and our in-person events like NewsData’s conferences, StoryConnect Conference and Communicators Workshop were all postponed or restructured.
  • Pioneer's team tapped into webinars, podcasts, blog posts and ebooks to help Utility Pioneers develop stories. Our website,, was redesigned to focus on story-building ideas.
  • Expect new opportunities for support from our team as we pair account managers with editors, social media staff and efficiency team representatives to identify other areas where our team can provide solutions for challenges facing Utility Pioneers.

Record Returns 

As Pioneer grows to meet shared needs, the co-op’s valueboth as a service and as a source of investmentincreases for utility owners.

pioneer utility services iconPioneer announced a record return of $457,000 in capital credits, representing an 8.5% return on members’ eligible spending with Pioneer in 2021. Checks will reach utility members in July.

“For some of you this represents a five-figure check,” Pioneer CFAO Matthew Pierce reports. “For others it’s a few hundred dollars. In each case it represents our commitment to efficient operations and smart budgeting, and reflects the strength of the cooperative model.”

Between 2017 and 2021, member equity grew at an annualized rate of 12.5%, even after returning 100% of capital credits to members as patronage checks.

“This is where the cooperative genius happens,” Pierce says. “By organically growing, operating our subsidiaries and our rental activities, we’re able to defray our overhead costs substantially. The result of that is modest profitability, which results in equity and patronage checks for our members.”

Pierce cautions that returns may not be as strong for 2022 due to inflation and rising costs for labor, travel, printing, paper and postage (see how cooperation reduces the impact of rising costs). 

“We believe part of our responsibility is to smooth the impact of these fluctuations for you and your communications program,” Pierce explains. “We’ll do everything we can to mitigate the impact of inflation on your budget.”

Pioneer has returned more than $3 million to members since being founded in 1956.

Member Growth

In 2021, Pioneer welcomed 31 new members, including 25 community-owned utilities, a generation and transmission co-op, and statewide membership associations in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico.

pioneer utility services iconNow — through the power of cooperation — 141 members and more than a hundred additional utilities across the nation work together to strengthen electric and broadband utility stories with Pioneer’s shared communication solutions.

In a board meeting before the member meeting, Pioneer’s board of directors approved an online membership form to make joining the co-op easier for eligible utilities and industry associations.

Membership is available exclusively to not-for-profit utilities and the associations serving them. Members must subscribe to at least one Pioneer service. Co-op membership isn’t required to work with Pioneer, but it has great benefits, including the ability to vote for directors and receive capital credits. 

Renewed Leadership

In true cooperative fashion, utility leaders are elected by members to guide the communications co-op through Pioneer’s board of directors. Members used the Pioneer Votes platform to reelect two board members:

Scott Peters headshot

Scott Peters


District 2, Alaska, Hawaii and Washington

Board members represent utility members in seven districts. Any Pioneer member utility CEO/general manager or board member is eligible to join Pioneer’s board.

See Pioneer's 2021 Member Report

About Pioneer Utility Resources

Pioneer is a not-for-profit communications cooperative based in Hillsboro, Oregon. Formed in 1956, it provides agency-style communications services to consumer-owned utilities and affiliated organizations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Marquee products and services include 11 consumer magazine brands reaching more than 1.3 million U.S. utility households. The cooperative also provides broadband marketing, social media engagement, responsive website design and hosting, podcast production, and custom communications services. Pioneer is built to share member stories.

Pioneer also owns Efficiency Services Group, which specializes in support and installation services for utility energy efficiency efforts, primarily in the West, and NewsData, which publishes industry-leading, independent newsletters covering the utility sector in California and the Pacific Northwest. Pioneer is also the largest shareholder in General Pacific, a Fairview, Oregon-based electric supply company. Learn more at