The role of a state association executive demands a number of components, including member recruitment and communicating with members, overseeing legislative issues, scheduling events and safety training initiatives.
“Managing a state association is not simple, certainly,” says Pat Hyland, director of industry programs at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “From a PERC perspective, I often forget that the state executive spends a lot of time on legislative matters, while we don’t at PERC. Our priorities won’t always align consistently and they have important things to do with membership, so it can be a challenge to be a good state executive.”
Over the past year, several state associations have appointed new executive directors. Some changes were made following the National Propane Gas Association’s (NPGA) 2016 termination of Baron Glassgow, who managed 12 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
“When [Glassgow] left, we had to communicate with all of the state associations, specifically their officers, to find ways to assist them and help them get up to speed with where they were with PERC funding,” Hyland says. “We also had to determine who would be a good point person until a new executive was put in place for those states. And then from there, we’re making concerted efforts to sit down and have one-on-ones with these new executives to review what information they have on the market.”
The new executive directors and their boards of directors have been hard at work, building membership, improving communication and resolving funding issues.
To date, all of the associations that Glassgow managed have new executive directors in place, with the exception of the Rocky Mountain Propane Association (RMPA) and Arizona. Phil Scheel of Tumbleweed Propane is serving as president of RMPA until a new executive is hired.
The directors shared the current issues they’re facing and their visions for the future.
Colorado and New Mexico Propane Gas Associations
Dan Binning became executive director in November 2016 after previously working at Kiva Energy, AmeriGas, Ferrellgas and Petrolane, respectively.
In his new position, Binning aims to recruit new members, as well as set up conventions, meetings, industry trainers and PERC materials.
“None of the memberships for the associations had grown for years when I came in,” Binning explains. “And let’s put it this way, the associations have been financially strapped.”
As a solution, Binning hopes to increase dues revenue, as well as non-dues revenue through sponsorships of meetings and seminars. He also aims to ensure financial transparency with association members.
One of the major challenges for member states is rate-based payer-funded expansion of natural gas mains. It’s common in many states, Binning notes, but it’s an issue state leaders must follow.
“This has been an educational experience for me,” he says of his position. “I’m putting in very long hours and trying to stay on top of things. Next year should be much smoother.”
Rocky Mountain Propane Association
“We decided not to hire a new executive director right away [when Glassgow left],” says Tumbleweed Propane’s Phil Scheel, who’s currently serving as president of the association. “We wanted to get a good handle on [Glassgow’s situation] with NPGA first so that the new executive director we intend to hire has a fresh place to start.”
The association serving Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming envisions hiring a new executive director in the next nine to 18 months, Scheel notes.
In the meantime, the process has demanded more work from the association’s board of directors. Scheel and others on the board have volunteered many hours outside of their day-to-day jobs to help the association build its membership and envision new goals. Scheel has also spent time seeking new opportunities with PERC projects.
Amidst the search for a new executive director, the association has been faced with challenges. Members have seen natural gas expansion in Wyoming. The association is also considering how to address an electronic logbook rule, which will impact how retailers in the region receive their product.
Pacific Propane Gas Association
Matt Solak transitioned to serve as the executive director of the Pacific Propane Gas Association in September 2016.
The association features members from Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Solak works with Kindsvatter, Dalling & Associates, an association management firm based in Lansing, Michigan, which also oversees the Michigan Propane Gas Association and the Ohio Propane Gas Association.
“We’ve really spent the last six months just laying some foundational building blocks for the association, working to get past issues resolved,” he says. “I think from day one, we had a ‘move forward’ mentality.”
Despite some of the transitional challenges, Solak notes NPGA has been helpful with auditing and getting the association on track with its PERC funds. The association now has additional checks and balances in order to keep funds transparent, as well as altering programs and advocacy.
The West Coast has a more aggressive emissions policy than many other regions, so the association monitors greenhouse gas taxes to ensure they do not adversely impact marketers.
Regulatory and legislative issues in California can spill over into Oregon and Washington, due to their close proximity, and can negatively impact retailers in that area. According to Solak, “We have to work diligently in Oregon and Washington to stem the tide and try to make sure any regulatory policies don’t adversely affect propane.”
Overall, the association faces unique challenges when compared with other state associations, as the geographies of the member states are quite different. Solak hopes to ensure association members in Alaska and Hawaii feel connected with the association at meetings. In addition, he has encouraged members in both states to become more involved with the industry’s Certified Employee Training Program.
Propane Gas Association of New England
Leslie Anderson took over the position in January 2017, with Rose assisting in the transition through July. Anderson previously served in the propane industry for 14 years at Dead River Co. While Anderson admits it’s a challenge to juggle a six-state association, having Rose’s assistance significantly helped.
“Together, we got on our feet quickly for me to take over with issues that were going on,” she says.
As PGANE’s president and CEO, Anderson hopes to address the aging population of the propane industry. She notes the issue is especially pressing in New England, where the average age of employees is between 49 and 52. In addition, taxes tend to be higher in New England, which discourages some new, up-and-coming businesses from staying in the area.
“We have a lot of our workforce set to retire in the next five to 10 years,” she says. “We have a challenge about trying to get younger professionals into the workforce. I’m working with NPGA on the workforce development task force and they’re looking into how we can work with the community colleges and other agencies to build a younger workforce.”
Anderson also aims to further promote the green benefits of propane among legislators in New England.
“It’s pretty liberal up here, and in many states, legislators are looking primarily at solar and wind,” Anderson says. “But propane is a green energy, and it’s a great way to serve customers in New England without having to build new infrastructure. We need to do a better job at educating them about the green benefits of propane.”
Virginia Propane Gas Association
The Virginia Propane Gas Association named Ben Rowe as its executive director in December 2016.
Rowe works with the Alliance Group, an association management firm based in Richmond, Virginia. In the position, he helps to oversee day-to-day operations of the association, as well as plan association events and meetings. He also works with the association’s safety and training coordinator and its government affairs representative.
With Rowe’s transition into the role, Virginia has implemented stronger processes to ensure the sound fiscal management of the association. He envisions growing the association’s membership, increasing engagement with its current members and facilitating gallon-growth opportunities.
“We’re seeing our marketers looking for new sources and customers,” Rowe says. “More of our marketers are looking to expand burner tips at home.”
The association is also keeping a close eye on the commonwealth’s gubernatorial election, which will occur this fall. The association will be monitoring any issues that either candidate may bring, as well as campaign talking points and materials that might impact the propane industry.
“We are a strong association with active membership, but there is room for growth,” Rowe adds.
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