The Kuhefuss House Museum, located in Cedarburg’s downtown National Historic District, is one of the city’s oldest homes. Built in 1849, it housed five generations of families before becoming a museum in 1989. Photo courtesy of the Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce
Cedarburg is a charming, vibrant community of about 11,500. Although it’s only 20 miles away from the hustle and bustle of Milwaukee, the open fields and natural beauty of this city built along the Cedar Creek make it feel like another world.
Several limestone and cream brick buildings constructed by Cedarburg’s original settlers still stand, now home to a variety of restaurants, shops, galleries and other businesses. The community houses several museums and historical sites, as well as one of the last standing wooden covered bridges in Wisconsin.
The unique shops, diverse dining options and thriving arts community make Cedarburg a favorite destination for tourists and other visitors. The city’s many festivals, community events, and live musical and theatrical performances are part of Cedarburg’s culture of community involvement.
Cedarburg Light & Water Utility
Cedarburg Light & Water Utility (CL&W) provides approximately 6,000 Cedarburg homes and businesses with electricity and water services. Like the community, the utility also has a culture of involvement.
“I want my supervisory group to be involved with at least one outside group as part of their overall performance appraisal and development,” says Dale Lythjohan, General Manager of CL&W.
He and his staff of 21 are active with a number of groups, including WPPI Energy committees and advisory groups, software user groups and community organizations.
“What I’ve always told people is you’re going to receive more than you give, whether through networking or getting a better understanding of how some of the systems work,” he says.
CL&W is locally owned and not-for-profit. To ensure the utility is truly working for the benefit of Cedarburg residents and businesses, it’s governed by a seven-person utility commission comprised of local residents appointed by the mayor. The commissioners have diverse personal, educational and business backgrounds, which Lythjohan says, “allows us to have some depth in our discussions.”
Although there’s a range of experience levels on the commission, most commissioners stay for several years. The late Charlie Bradburn was on the commission for 54 years, and his father was on the commission for 27 years before that. Former Mayor Jim Coutts has been on the commission for 14 years.
CL&W and WPPI Energy
CL&W was a founding member of WPPI Energy (then Wisconsin Public Power Inc.) in 1980, and has been an active member ever since. Lythjohan was chair of the WPPI Energy Board of Directors from 2007 to 2011. He’s currently a member of the Executive Committee, the Personnel Committee and the Rates Services Advisory Group (RSAG). CL&W’s engineer is on the Outage Management Task Force (OMTF), its electric superintendent is on the Distribution Services Advisory Group (DSAG), and one of its commissioners is on the Policy & Communications Leadership Council (PCLC).
“WPPI Energy is a member-driven organization, and for a member-driven organization to really succeed, you’ve got to have engaged members,” says Lythjohan. “I think those are WPPI Energy’s biggest strengths - member involvement and member harmony.”
Cedarburg residents and visitors dine 'al fresco' at the Anvil Pub & Grille, overlooking Cedar Creek. Photo courtesy of the Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce
Similar, Not the Same
CL&W is known in the Cedarburg community for great customer service thanks in part to a mindset the staff has adopted.
“When I first came here in ’93, we had an adage that we were going to treat all the customers the same, but that’s kind of like a glove that says it’s one size fits all,” says Lythjohan. “The reality is that it doesn’t fit everybody. We worked hard to develop a culture of serving customers similarly. Everyone doesn’t need the exact same things from us, but they all have needs."
“We want to establish relationships with our customers so they know we’re trying hard, we’re honest, we’re doing the best we can and we’re going to serve them responsibly.” says Lythjohan. “We talk about customer service every time we get together, and I think if you do that and people start owning it, it becomes who you are. It’s natural.”
Looking to the Future
In Lythjohan’s opinion, the customer of the past and the customer of the future are two different people. As the father of three daughters in their twenties, he’s seen first-hand the culture and expectations of the next generation of utility customers.
“I think utilities are going to have to be very technologically advanced in order to continue to succeed and grow,” he says. “One of the challenges is that many municipal utilities are small, we wear many hats. So I think the utility of the future is going to need to rely more and more on joint action in order to serve customers.”
As for WPPI Energy as a whole, Lythjohan anticipates “the future of WPPI will continue to evolve, and I think that’s necessary. However, it’s important to remember the strength of the membership is member harmony. I think that if WPPI Energy maintains that, the future’s bright.”