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Gulf & Main Magazine

Lee County Electric Public Relations Director Reflects on 25 Years at the North Fort Myers Organization

Lee County Electric operates with a keen eye on maintaining financial strength while providing quality service to customers. Annual key performance indicators, customer satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, and open communication opportunities ensure the organization is on track. As part of a local business, LCEC’s employees are deeply involved in economic development, education, the environment, and building communities.

Karen Ryan, LCEC's public relations director, has served the organization for 25 years. She took some time to answer some questions for Gulf & Main Magazine and reflect on her extensive experience.

Tell us about your organization. When were you founded? What was the main motivation for starting?

LCEC Founder Homer Welch. Photo courtesy of LCEC

LCEC was formed in 1940 when no other utility wanted to serve parts of Southwest Florida. A group of people, led by Homer Welch—working for businessman George Judd—formed an electric cooperative. It began with 150 residents in North Fort Myers and Sanibel. In order to receive government funding, cooperative members were required to pay a $5 membership fee. Often, they didn’t have $5 and Homer Welch would pay for them. He became the first CEO of LCEC when incorporation was successful in 1940.

Eventually, residents and business owners across Southwest Florida desiring the benefits of electricity joined the cooperative. LCEC grew to serve members in Pine Island, parts of Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral, Immokalee, Marco Island, Everglades City, Golden Gate, and eventually Ave Maria.

We grew to be among the largest of 1,000 electric distribution cooperatives in the nation. We are not-for-profit and our reason for existing is to serve our members. It’s been that way for 81 years.

Why did you choose to be in North Fort Myers? Why is this city important to you?

This is where orange grove owner George Judd introduced the power of electricity to his employees and the desire grew! Our headquarters is right where the groves were located and my office is almost in the exact spot as the Marianna Grove Power Plant stood!

What's something you wish people knew about your organization?

Our tag line, 'People. Power. Possibilities' says it best. LCEC is governed by people who are also members—a Board of Trustees. They are elected by the people who are members. The day-to-day operations are run by dedicated local people who truly care about the members’ best interests. 

We deliver the power that makes lives better, easier, safer, brighter. And the possibilities for the future are always strategically considered with reliability, quality service, and competitive rates in mind.

Personally speaking, what is your favorite thing about your organization?

The people part of the cooperative formula! Over my 25 years with the organization, I have worked shoulder to shoulder with remarkable, talented, knowledgeable, and good humans! As an added bonus, the LCEC focus on corporate stewardship has allowed me to learn from and collaborate with the best people in our community toward so many worthy causes within our region. Working hard for our members is fulfilling and stretching that further to energize the community is a bonus!

What is a common question you get? Your answer to it?

'Why don’t they put all the wires underground?'

It’s a common misconception that underground is a silver bullet. And there are some advantages. However, the cost is often prohibitive and would drive rates very high for customers. We also live in a region where the water table makes it challenging to repair underground. Research shows although outages could be reduced, the repair time for an outage will take a lot longer. It is easier and less costly to construct, detect trouble, and repair overhead infrastructure.

What's the biggest compliment you've received about your organization? 

In Florida, customers are not able to choose their electric provider. I am extremely proud when people tell me they would pick LCEC even if they were able to change. We pride ourselves in operating like we are in a competitive market. It loops back to our reason for existing—to serve our members.

Are you involved with or do you support any local nonprofits, community organizations, or causes?

Oh yes! This has been my passion ever since I can remember! One of my proudest moments was recently co-chairing the local United Way campaign with Bob Beville. The goal was $10.8 million … in the middle of a pandemic! And the goal was reached! What was so rewarding about the experience was the way the community came together to make it happen. Bob and I were leading the charge and so many people truly rose to the challenge. During a time it was needed so much by local agencies, it was especially meaningful to me.

I have also had the privilege of serving as President of the Edison Festival of Light and the Florida Public Relations Association and have served on the boards of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, American Heart Association, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lee County, Meals on Wheels, Paint Your Heart Out, and many other community cause committees and initiative.

Do you have any upcoming events, specials or new items/services that people should know about?

Yes! We just launched a program called Round Up. It is linked to our Power to Share program partnership with United Way. Customers can round up their monthly bill to the nearest dollar. The most an individual customer would contribute would be $12 per year. If a good percentage of our 230,000 customers participated, we could help a lot of people struggling to pay their electric bill. Typically, the United Way distributes more than $50,000 annually to those who qualify for need via the LCEC Power to Share program. We can do even more if everyone gives a little.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business? Have you rebounded? Did you do anything special given the circumstances?

We didn’t miss a beat. Employees, vendors, and suppliers were able to continue meeting our customers' electric needs. We adapted well and tried new ways of getting things done.

It was, and continues to be, a challenge to keep employees and customers safe through social distancing, masks, and all the other suggested health protocols.

We all worked remotely if our jobs allowed. However, operating a utility that serves customers in five counties means some people have jobs that require them to physically be where the work is. Field employees adhered to health guidelines and we were very strict on our campus to make sure we mitigated the risk. This meant that workers had to ride in separate vehicles, wore masks, tracked their steps and contacts at all times, took temps, and many other adjustments.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Prior to working at LCEC I took for granted that at the flip of a switch the lights come on. Working behind the scenes, I have gained an appreciation for all that it takes to deliver power. The men and women that I work with are extremely committed to making sure the quality of life is the best it can be for our customers. Not only in terms of electricity, but life in general. I am continually amazed at how much they care and how much of they give of their time, talent, and treasure to make Southwest Florida a better place. I never dreamed I would work at one place for a quarter of a century! I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

For more information about LCEC, visit