White River Co-Op pulls out of Silver Dollar City deal after member backlash

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BRANSON, Mo. -- White River Valley Electric Co-Op has pulled out of an unannounced five-year, six-figure deal to sponsor Silver Dollar City’s new roller coaster, Time Traveler, the co-op’s CEO, Chris Hamon, said Friday.

He says he understood criticisms from some members, who asked how the co-op could justify sponsoring a private company when peaks have come often during a harsh winter.

“We've had a lot of energy use, and to have this come out at this time was bad timing,” Hamon said. “It was just one of those things when you look back at it the perception of it was not good.”

Hamon blamed the presentation of the sponsorship as of the roller coaster, rather than another unannounced initiative called Dream Big Do Good, which was also going to be part of the deal, as a reason for some members’ outrage.

Members caught wind of the deal at a rotary club meeting, and pressed Hamon from there.

“I mean shocked,” co-op customer Josh Smith said. “Blatant waste throwing money down the drain for a multi-million dollar ride and a private business, and being a co-op that money should have been returned to the members.”

Hamon says that the money for this agreement was already in their marketing budget.

White River Valley Co-Op partners with community events and spends money on commercials for, "energy education," but has never agreed to a sponsorship deal like this before.

Hamon says that community involvement and economic development are important principles for the co-op and its board, and they viewed this multi-year sponsorship (the first of its kind for the non-profit co-op) as an investment in both.

“After we did it we should have explained why we were doing it and what was involved with it,” Hamon said. “It wasn't just giving money to Silver Dollar City, [we should have explained] what we were actually trying to do with it.”

Dream Big Do Good is a new program from Silver Dollar City which will be, “going out to our communities and our schools and our churches and recognizing teachers and those who inspire,” according to spokesperson Lisa Rau. Hamon said some of his company’s linemen could be featured.

Still, a large enough section of their membership disagreed with the notion that White River Valley needed to sponsor anything.

“That's not what they need to be doing,” Smith said. “If they want to do that they can do it with their own money. If the employees want to donate money, or Mr. Hamon wants to write a big check, that's one thing. But, to do it on the backs of the membership is not okay.”

Hamon said that if the co-op were to kick the money they planned to spend on the sponsorship back to their 43,000 co-op members that they would receive 75 cents on average.

“So, that money will kept and not be spent,” Hamon said. “We'll keep that money and if we have to cut right of way [trimming trees] with it or do what we need to do that's what it will be used for.”

Hamon says they have no plans to try another sponsorship deal like this again.

Silver Dollar City accounts for 11 percent of White River Electric Co-Op's revenue.