Tradition-rich states form Southeast Propane Alliance

February 17, 2022 By    

The process of dissolving three state propane associations with over 200 combined years of history to form a three-state regional alliance wasn’t without some hesitation. Not with longtime members’ strong connections, the nostalgia felt by generations of volunteers and state pride.

In the end, though, it was too hard to ignore the business case for, what one state executive described as, a modern model for the propane industry and a rare example of longtime state propane associations disbanding to reform into one alliance.

The Southeast Propane Alliance (SEPA), composed of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, formed on Jan. 1 with John Jessup as president and CEO.

As the former head of the North Carolina Propane Gas Association (NCPGA) explains, the “planets aligned” for the formation of the new alliance.

Gathering steam

Discussions about such an alliance began more than two years ago when the executives leading Georgia (Jenni McKeen) and South Carolina (Corky Clark) started to mull retirement, which will happen later this year.

“We had to come up with a good plan or successor, so when this opportunity presented itself, it really gathered steam,” says Clark, a 50-year veteran of the propane industry, 22 leading the South Carolina Propane Gas Association (SCPGA). “The more people talked about it, the more they kind of liked it.”

Georgia and South Carolina are no strangers, having held a joint convention for over a decade.

“Our folks and the Georgia folks know each other well, and they work together well,” Clark says. “It felt like if we could do it with those two states, then possibly we could do it with North Carolina, too.”

The states devised a plan to dissolve all three boards, take the top leadership from each state and create one board representing SEPA.

“Regionalization makes a lot of sense,” says McKeen, who had been with the Georgia Propane Gas Association for 23 years.

SEPA’s formation builds strength in numbers, says Clark, who recognizes the importance of member participation. The alliance boasts about 800 member locations and represents about 700 million gallons in propane sales.

Jessup says there’s been strong early interest in SEPA’s seven committees and three advisory boards.

“When something is new and shiny, everybody wants to see what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s up to us to keep that momentum going.”

Specialization

A fresh start may get people excited, but SEPA looks to carry that momentum forward by deploying more resources, devoting more attention to projects and making a greater impact at events.

SEPA’s specialized staff includes a finance manager (Beverly Dodd), director of code compliance and education (Dave Donahue) and an events coordinator (Laura Lee Perry), and Jessup says he’ll consider other specialized positions to help it cover the large land mass comprising the three states.

“To be able to spread that among more people in the SEPA office will be something good that our members can rely on and know there’s a group that’s got their best interest at heart and can provide services for them,” says Clark, who like McKeen has served as a one-person operation working from home.

SEPA’s center of gravity lies in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the NCPGA had established its offices and last year opened NC-TEC, a training center aimed at bringing more young professionals into the propane industry. The SEPA board now oversees the training center, which has created industry buzz around its potential to develop the workforce of the future.

SEPA represents that future for these three states but not without a nod to the past.

In the final issue of SCPGA’s membership magazine, Clark paid tribute to the six founders of the 73-year-old association and nudged current members to continue that legacy to ensure “bigger, brighter and better days are ahead.”

“They would be proud of where we came from and where we ended in our long history,” he says of the six.

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About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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