Jackson Energy's Wright Balances Two Key Leadership Roles in Region

March 21, 2024
Carol Wright, Jackson Energy CEO Carol Wright, Jackson Energy CEO

Like most successful businesswomen, Carol Wright is the consummate multi-tasker.

From the minute she wakes each morning until she sleeps each night, she is either working to keep the power on at Jackson Energy Cooperative or leading the direction and growth of one of the region’s premier economic development organizations.

These critical duties require a great mind, a heart for community and a love for humanity. Wright has all three with plenty left to share. And so, she does.

Each task contributes uniquely to round out the life of the President and CEO of Jackson Energy Cooperative and Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors president.

Wright is an electrical engineer who has risen to the top of her male-dominated career field as the state’s only current female CEO, leading one of Kentucky’s largest electrical cooperatives.

She is a transformative leader who has taken the reins of a 38-year-old nonprofit economic development organization and steered it to new heights with programs targeting some of the most challenging economic disparities, pulling together solutions and coalitions to make lemonade from lemons.

She is a mother and a grandmother who has not forgotten her Eastern Kentucky roots and believes the windshield is larger than the rearview mirror for a reason.

How does she do it?

“I have always aspired to keep improving my skill set and naturally take on leadership roles. I have been in leadership positions for most of my career,” she said. “My advice to women who desire to excel in their field of expertise is to “just do it” and not let perceptions of gender

influence their goals. You cannot let others determine your fate, including your professional aspirations.”

Earning a degree in electrical engineering was only the beginning for the Letcher County native. She acquired extensive experience in the energy sector and has led Jackson Energy Cooperative as its president and CEO since January 2013. Previous positions at Jackson Energy include chief operations officer and vice president of engineering and operations. In addition, she has held management positions at another Kentucky cooperative and has 10 years of technical engineering experience with Kentucky Utilities. Wright has more than 34 years of experience in the electric utility industry.

“One thing I enjoy in my role as President & CEO of Jackson Energy is the work culture,” she said. “We have dedicated and talented employees who care about serving our members, which makes my role enjoyable.”

Jackson Energy Cooperative serves 53,133 members across 15 counties, servicing 5,851 miles of line.

Wright was elected to SKED’s Board of Directors in 2017 and, within a year, was elevated to its executive committee as treasurer. By 2022, the 12-member volunteer board nominated her to become its president, and she holds that position today.

Her role at SKED began with a strong belief in its mission.

“SKED not only provides business loans but also helps existing companies expand and recruit new industries for our area,” she explained. “These businesses create needed jobs and improve our communities’ overall quality of life. Leading an organization with this mission is an honor, and I am so pleased to be a small part of what SKED does for our region.”

In 2021, she spearheaded a project combining the resources of both organizations to form a nonprofit economic development group called FOCUS. SKED applied for a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and partnered with Jackson Energy Cooperative to build a coalition of leaders and define the FOCUS group. FOCUS works with industry, business, and government officials to identify available resources and determine a regional plan to improve the local economy within a five-county region of Southeast Kentucky.

Now, two years in, under the guidance of FOCUS Economic Director Tal Jones, the region has experienced unprecedented interest and progress. Clay County has received a Kentucky Product Development Initiative grant. Jackson County has won a build-ready site certification and gained two additional marketable lots for the Jackson County Industrial Park. A new website and online presence are getting the communities much more attention and much needed regional and state-wide marketing.

“It is personally gratifying to see the work of FOCUS coming to life and watching the economic impact it can have on the communities,” Wright said. “Tal Jones is doing a wonderful job of marketing the communities and getting the county leaders around the table with the right state and regional officials to work together to qualify for the incentives available to attract the industry and job creators we need here to grow our region’s economy.”

Wright continues to look toward the future of Jackson Energy Cooperative and SKED. She believes adapting to ever-evolving technology is the answer for growth at both entities.

“Technology is always changing, and how we do business must adapt. There is not a “normal” course of doing business these days,” Wright added. “We must be innovative and meet the needs of our members/customers at their pace and with all the available technology at hand.”

In addition to Jackson Energy and SKED, Wright serves on the following boards and committees: National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) representing Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee; Kentucky Association for Electric Cooperatives (KAEC); Kentucky Propane Plus Board chairperson and Jackson Propane Plus chairperson.

She graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and a Master of Business Administration from Sullivan University.

To learn how SKED helps small business owners do business better, visit www.skedcorp.com or call (606) 677-6100.

SKED is a nonprofit economic development organization designated a Community Development Financial Institution by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers formed the organization 37 years ago to create jobs and economic prosperity in Southeast Kentucky. Its office is in Somerset, Ky., and it serves a 45-county service region.