Joe Cade, CEO and general manager of 4-County Electric Power Association, poses in his office during one of his final months on the job. Cade will step down in September after more than three decades in the utility cooperative business. Retirement will give Cade time to focus on Ford Mustangs and Saints football, he said. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
August 2, 2018 10:40:17 AM
When CEO and general manager Joe Cade steps away from the helm of 4-County Electric Power Association in September, he'll have much more time on his hands. With that newfound freedom, Cade hopes to concentrate on two things -- Ford Mustangs and New Orleans Saints football.
Cade, 74, describes himself as a "Mustang jerk." He has two vintage Mustangs parked at home, along with a 1966 Ford 7-Litre convertible.
"There were only about 1,500 of those cars made," Cade said of the "very rare" 1966 model.
His love for old cars began decades ago when his oldest of three sons became old enough to drive.
"When each of my kids turned 15 years old, I bought them an old Mustang and made them work on it," Cade said. "I made them do work on it so that they would appreciate having a car and appreciate what it's like to have to maintain and fix and work on them."
Now, he keeps an old Mustang "all the time."
"My wife and I show the two Mustangs and the 7-Litre to different shows throughout this area," Cade said. "We enjoy going to the car shows, seeing the people there. ... That's kind of our hobby."
With his 35-year career that started at 4-County soon to be in his rear-view mirror, Cade plans to travel to New Orleans as much as possible with his boys this fall to see the Saints in action. Eventually, he hopes to pass on his long-held Saints fandom to his grandchildren, too, by taking them to games in the Crescent City.
A proven track record
Cade brushed with retirement once before. In 2005, he retired from his position as president and CEO of Flint Electric Membership Corporation in Reynolds, Georgia. But when the head role opened at 4-County Electric Power in 2010, Cade couldn't stay away.
"I absolutely love this place," he said. "I always have. I've always held 4-County up to the other co-ops that I've managed, too, as a role model."
Cade began his career in the electric cooperative business as a data processing manager for 4-County in 1983.
A cooperative, Cade explained, is nonprofit.
"We are membership based," added Jon Turner, 4-County's public relations and marketing manager. "Everybody, when they get power from us, becomes a member. By becoming a member, they become an owner."
Cade has worked for several cooperatives over the years -- first for 4-County; then Talladega, Alabama-based Coosa Valley Electric. In 1997, he went to Flint Electric Membership Corporation before returning to lead 4-County.
Along the way, he's helped orchestrate positive outcomes for those cooperatives, and their customers.
"His whole career has been based on trying to figure out how we can do better with tools and keep (our) budget down," Turner said. "We have ... in the past four to five years, really worked on our controllable budget because that's what really impacts the member."
4-County's operating expenses for 2017 were about $114 million -- $4 million less than the co-op's revenue. Turner said that sort of monetary surplus is what allowed 4-County to absorb a utility rate increase from the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2016 without passing it on to customers. 4-County, Turner added, was one of only two or three organizations, out of TVA's 155 distributors, that was able to absorb that cost.
4-County services more than 48,000 members -- about 3,000 more than when Cade took over as CEO. Turner said the organization has seen steady membership growth of 1 to 3 percent each year since 2010.
The organization covers parts of nine counties -- Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee, Monroe, Choctaw, Webster, Chickasaw and Winston.
Cade's proudest accomplishments, though, during his eight-year tenure have been his emphasis on safety among employees and the creation of the 4-County Foundation in 2015.
Through the foundation, 4-County has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars back into its communities.
"That was (Joe's) idea," Turner said. "What happens is you round up members' bills, that opt-in, to the nearest dollar. Then you take that spare change and put it in the bank and give grants to community organizations."
Turner said in the last few years, 4-County has helped purchase everything from police officers' bullet-proof vests to Chromebooks for students in area schools.
Economic development impact
But Cade has given back to the Golden Triangle in another way, too -- by helping bring jobs to the area through companies such as Yokohama Tire Corporation's West Point plant, which now employs more than 650 workers.
Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, who leads industrial recruitment efforts in the Golden Triangle, described Cade as "a prince of a man."
Higgins said Cade's work was a major reason Yokohama decided to set up shop in West Point.
"That was a hard, hard project to win," Higgins said. "Those late-night, early-morning, what're we gonna do meetings -- are we gonna get beat, are we gonna win this -- he's sitting at the table right there with us."
According to Higgins, a big part of winning that project was ensuring electrical improvements were made at the site for the lowest cost possible, to accommodate incoming industry.
"(Joe) asked them, 'When do you need it finished by?' and they told him," Higgins said. "He went back, got with his engineers and teams and called us back and said, 'We'll do it.' If my memory serves me correctly, that substation was built way before it had to be finished for Yokohama."
4-County provided a maximum capacity of 45 megawatts of power at the Yokohama site at a cost of about $3.5 million.
Higgins said Cade's "methodical, one-two-three-four systematic approach" hasn't failed yet.
"At the end of it you look, and he's done everything he said he would do on or before (the date) he said he would do it, at or below the cost he said he would do it for," Higgins said. "That's pretty remarkable."
Higgins also said it was Cade's leadership that pushed the Starkville Board of Aldermen and the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors last year to approve a joint $14 million 400-acre industrial park just north of Starkville.
Higgins said when the LINK couldn't front the costs for power at the potential industrial park site, 4-County agreed to invest $4 million on the front end "in anticipation someone's going to come out there and need some electricity," Higgins said.
4-County built a substation on site with the capacity for 60 megawatts of electricity. The cooperative will only be reimbursed for its contribution when companies start locating at the site and contracting with 4-County, Higgins said.
"You talk about having faith in a community and faith in a region," Higgins added. "Now that doesn't happen very often."
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