Thursday, Nov 5- On this episode, Stephen Mayfield joins us and gives a passionate display of what a natural gas champion sounds like.
Jim Schauer: [0:10] Good morning, LinkedIn community, energy industry, and more, to another exciting and riveting episode of "Coffee with Jim and James." When I think of Tallahassee, Florida, settled 500 years ago, became a city. Next year’s going to be the 200‑year anniversary of it. It’s nestled in the mountains of Florida. I’ll be it, elevation 200 feet in Florida, that’s Mountains for us. [0:38] James, I’m going to need you to help me to get a little bit more into this subject. Let’s bring in our co‑host, my brother, my yin and yang, him, the one and only Mr. James Cross. James, how are you this fine and beautiful day?
James Cross: [0:54] Good morning, Jim. I’m doing great, excited for today’s…We’re going to have to find a new word for "excited." We’re going to hit the thesaurus this weekend, and try to find a new word for "exciting." We overuse it. Today, I am pumped to have Stephen Mayfield from the city of Tallahassee joining us. [1:14] Steven has been a long‑time client of UWM, but that’s not why we have him here today. Steven, good morning and welcome to the show. If you don’t mind, would you give everybody just a quick rundown of your title, and what you do there at city of Tallahassee.
Stephen Mayfield: [1:31] Sure. I am the manager, AGM, of the gas utility. I’ve been with the city about 21 years, and I took over managing the gas utility in 2008. I’ve been doing that for about 12 years. It’s a great place to work. One of the funny things is, when I came to the gas utility, I came out of the manufacturing business, and I thought I was going to just do a stop‑off. [1:55] I had a job offer in Chattanooga, had a job offer in Atlanta. I had worked for Shaw Industries for quite a few years, and I was going to stay in the manufacturing area, but my wife was not ready to move yet. She sent an application in for me to the city of Tallahassee. She asked if she could, and I said, "Sure." [2:13] I got a phone call one day, and it was like, "This is the city of Tallahassee, Gas2. We want you to come in for an interview." I said, "Who?" I don’t even understand, "Oh." Then it hit me, "OK, yes. OK, I’ll come in." I walked in, talked about five minutes to the boss. He slid a sheet over and offered me a job on the spot. [2:35] I accepted it, and I thought, "Ah, I’ll stay here a year or so till I can talk my wife into moving to one of these other areas. 21 years later, I’m here, and I love the gas industry.
Jim: [2:46] That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. Let’s dive a little bit deeper, Stephen, into that. City of Tallahassee, for our viewers, is the state capital of Florida. We want to talk a little bit about your gas grid and the amount of customers that you all serve in that area.
Stephen: [3:01] We have a little over 34,000 customers, and we’re growing at about a thousand customers a year. We’ve really been doing well through this pandemic time. A lot of our people we’ve got lately are conversions, people that were all electric, or maybe some other fuel source, and then converting to natural gas. [3:30] They’re sitting at home so much and they’re thinking, "You know, I really want to get a gas stove. I’ve been cooking more and I like to cook on a gas stove," or, "Tankless water heaters. I’ve heard a lot about those and I like those. I want to get some other fire, beautification issues, things out there." We’ve gotten several people getting gas lights at their houses. [3:51] There’s a lot of people that are wanting to remodel and make their houses look better. [inaudible]
James: [3:58] Stephen, I love an old‑school gas. I had one growing up, and every time I see one of those feels like a win. Stephen, you guys are super active in APGA, yourself being on the board. I know you’ve been involved with a lot of the committee’s and stuff within APGA. APGA has a program for those that may not understand, called the SOAR Program. [4:25] Stephen, I’ll let you go into detail on that. It’s about operational excellence, right? In the area, at least, of public natural gas systems. Can you give us your thoughts on that APGA SOAR Program, coupled, with industry initiatives like PSMS, and how you think that can help all of us improve?
Stephen: [4:43] I believe APGA, and the industry as a whole…The best thing about the gas industry, is even though we may be competitors in a slight scale, realistically, we all want to work together, and we all want to improve the industry. APGA developed the SOAR Program, and it stands for System Operational Achievement Recognition. [5:15] It’s a way to recognize organizations who go above and beyond, and improve. There is a system integrity, system improvement, employee safety and workforce development. I view it as a continual improvement mechanism. The best thing about it is you get to see what other companies feel like their best things they do are, how they achieve excellence in different areas. [5:43] They share this. They’re open and they allow others to see it, so we can all improve. If you’re gold, silver, or bronze level, it’s not important, because if you’re involved, then you can pick and choose things that help your system get better and better. That’s what I’ve used it for. I guess it’s been around for about seven years. [6:05] For seven years, I’ve been involved with it. Every year it comes through, my system changes a little bit. The program changes too, because if you watch the gas industry in the last decade, it’s just constantly changing. New regulations are coming. If I remember, it was about 15 years ago, they were talking about natural gas is about to go away, price of it going out the roof. [6:33] Efficiency of appliances kept getting better and better. I found one of the funny things we talked earlier about 34,000 customers. I have 34,000 customers, but I have less load than I had a few years back because appliance efficiency is improving. As my customer growth increases, my load is not increasing to the same amount. [7:00] I view SOAR as a continual improvement mechanism. We apply to show what we’ve done, and we’ve done well. We’ve been maintaining the gold status. This year, I don’t remember the exact number, but we had the most systems obtain gold. That shows how everybody’s using this program correctly. [7:20] Systems that were bronze in the past, silver in the past, they’ve joined in on best practice webinars that the industries put together. They’ve incorporated some of the best practices of other systems into theirs, and they’ve improved. You talk about pipeline safety management system, that is a new wave. It’s been around for a while. [7:49] The liquid manufacturing company, or the liquid transportation company’s a little ahead of us on that. They were hit first. I started hearing about it about two or three years ago, wasn’t sure what it was, but it’s really picked up some steam in the last year. It’s another way for us to share information. [8:08] I was thinking about this, and one of the things I always remember is imitation is the highest form of flattery. I feel good whenever I see a system incorporate something that I’ve done. I hope others feel the same way too, because it means they think what I’m doing’s good.
Jim: [8:26] Stephen, I’m going to tell you beforehand, I have to say, you have a reputation in the industry, just so you know.
Stephen: [8:35] That could be good or bad. [0:00] [
James: [8:37] laughs]
Jim: [8:38] It could be.
James: [8:39] So do you, Jim. [0:00] [
Jim: [8:40] laughs] Yeah, we’re not going to talk about that. Amy, we’re going to cut that out. Just kidding. Stephen, no, people view you, when we talk about your name, leader, mentor, wanting the best for the industry, wanting the best for everybody, constituents, the whole bit, homeowners. I want you to know, you have a great name in the industry. [9:03] I have a question here, we’re both Floridians, and we live in Hurricane Alley. It’s all around us. It’s a way of life, just like blizzards are up north. We have hurricanes here. Can you go into some insight about, again, all the things that you hit on about sharing those best practices, Mutual Aid, helping others to learn a better way? [9:25] Taking down those walls where it’s not us against them, but we are in it as an industry. Thoughts, insight, comments on that?
Stephen: [9:33] Sure, as I was talking to before we got started, if you hear some lightning, you hear some heavy rain come through, we’re catching some of the outer bands of Zeta right now. I’ll tell you one thing, my heart goes out to Louisiana, because this has been a hard year for them. I don’t remember seeing as many hurricanes hit one area. [9:58] This goes back to like Florida probably experienced 2004, 2005. We had hurricane after hurricane hit us. Yes, and this comes down to we talk about sharing best practices and continual improvement. The industry’s great. When I first took over the gas utility here, and at that time, was getting concerned on the hurricanes. What do we need to do? [10:25] I reached out to some of my fellow systems in Florida, specifically Pensacola and Okaloosa. They’re both right on the water. Their [inaudible] is situated in a good spot. It’s a little difficult for us to get hit hard, even though we did a couple years ago with Michael. The way, coming up the coast, it’ll get beat down. It has to make that perfect track, which Michael did, to get us. [10:52] Those two are experts. They experience a lot of hurricanes. They know how to handle it. They’ve dealt with it. I reached out to them, and they provided me some great insight. Some of the things are, make sure that your team members have taken care of their families, so they’re not worried about them anymore. They need to get them gone out of the area. [11:17] Make sure they do that, because everybody’s worried about their families. Get that part cleared away first. Make sure you have food. One of the things we do here, because we’re also teamed up with our electric utility ‑‑ every issue, they have issues ‑‑ is we have somebody come on site, and they have a self‑contained cooking facility. That’s critical. [11:44] You got to have food. If it stretches out for several days, it could be bad if you’re not able to feed the employees with good food. We have them lined up, and they’re on site with us and stay through the whole storm, before, during and after. We’re lucky in the gas utility. 99% of our stuff’s underground. [12:08] About the only issues we have on our underground infrastructure, if trees fall down and pull lines out of the ground. You need to make sure your valves are properly maintained and accessible, so you can shut off and isolate the areas that you need to handle. One thing we do in Tallahassee, annually, and we generally do it in January, February, is… [12:36] Our biggest exposure is probably due to our gate stations and regulating stations. What we want to do is, we want to make sure trees and other facilities won’t fall on those. We take an arborist with us. We’ll go look around and get their recommendation on this tree needs to come down, we need to trim the limbs off of this tree. Tallahassee loves its trees. [0:00] [
Jim: [13:03] laughs]
Stephen: [13:04] If we were just to go trim, without having an arborist offering the recommendations, we would have some citizens up in arms. Everything that we do helps protect the trees and make the trees stronger. Other than that, we need to be ready, and we need to be able to help and get things going. Realistically, we probably help the other utilities more than we need help. [13:31] Mutual Aid is very important, and we have Mutual Aid in Florida. Mutual Aid APGA also has a great program, where they have it throughout the nation. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve not had to call in Mutual Aid. Every time a storm comes into my area, they reach out to me and say, "Hey, do you need any help?" The investor‑owns and the municipals, we all work together. [13:57] I’ll reach out and call others to see if they need help. When Michael came through, we were OK, we didn’t need help. Some other small systems Chattahoochee, which is a municipal, and St. Joe natural gas, which is a privately owned gas company, they both needed help. We sent people over there to help them get their systems up and going. It’s a great team effort.
James: [14:24] It sounds very proactive, Stephen. This last big question here. Let’s dive a little deeper in, and how connected and involved in the industry. You talked about APGA earlier, and how active you’re involved, personally, and Tallahassee as a whole. We know you well from your involvement with FNGA, and ours as well. You guys operate very similar from what we heard. [14:55] Sitting at the table, sometimes it’s nice to be able to draw from those things. What are your thoughts on staying connected? What advice could you give folks, maybe in your shoes or others, that maybe aren’t as active, and how that can help drive your continuous improvement model?
Stephen: [15:15] When I think of involvement, it takes me back to engineering school. I went to Florida State, got a Mechanical Engineering degree. Before that, I was a math major, so I do love the rigor it goes through. One of the tools they taught you in school was, we had two sets of students. [15:39] You had those that worked in study teams, and they would get together and do homework, study for tests together. Then, you had those that did it all on their own. Most of them that worked together, they had higher grades than those that worked alone. Also, they had a little more free time, because you can get bogged down and stuck on something for a long time. [16:05] If you can’t get past it, if you could ask someone else, "Hey, how do y’all handle? What are you doing in this situation?" Then, they give you a little tweak, and it helps things go better. It helps things improve, and helps you understand. You don’t get staring at something forever, trying to figure it out. That’s how I look at it, involvement in organizations. [16:25] If you’re not involved, then you’re just learning from yourself. You’re doing it all on your own. While if you are involved, you’re seeing other people’s best practices. You have to go with an open attitude, and it’s not like my way is the best way all the time. You have to be willing to learn from others, look at what others can do, and share. [16:45] Share what you’re doing, and be willing to take a little constructive criticism. I was on a presentation Tuesday, and I emailed Erin Kurilla, who you all have had on the show before.
James: [16:57] Good friend of ours, yeah. Hey, Erin. [0:00] [
Jim: [16:57] laughs]
Stephen: [17:01] I asked her, I said, "What do I need to do to improve?" She blasted me. She told me all the bad things that I was doing and that I needed to stop doing it. That’s not 1, but she gave me a couple little ideas. I thought, "That’s good," because if you don’t ask, and if you don’t do that, you can’t get better. [17:24] As a group, we’ve had a lot of regulations come across in Florida. Dale Calhoun, who’s our executive director of Florida Natural Gas Association. He has helped spearhead some efforts to save all the all the municipals and the IOUs money, because these are ways that we’re able to get legislation passed that makes things better for us. [17:52] I’m not saying it makes things easier, but it makes things that are workable, because sometimes things could get passed that don’t make any sense. One of the things that we’re doing this year that’s been a big help, is he’s pushed some stuff through. Excavation damage is our biggest issue we have in the gas industry right now, or one of the biggest issues we have. [18:16] We’re going to have ways to put a little more oomph behind companies that don’t do what they need to do correctly when it comes to calling locates and working around the gas lines. That’s going to help.
Jim: [18:28] Are we going to see that term in a regulation, "oomph?"
James: [18:34] Oomph," yeah.
Stephen: [18:35] I was trying to think of a better word, and I didn’t think ahead of time. Oomph, it’s a good enough word.
James: [18:39] That’s fair. [[18:39] crosstalk]
Stephen: [18:39] Had a little bit of monetary hit on the companies. Realistically, I don’t want to. I don’t want these companies to have any monetary hits, because I want them to do it right. We want to work together. It makes it a lot easier for me to plan work when I don’t have unexpected damage that takes my guys away from what they need to do.
Jim: [19:01] That could have been avoided.
Stephen: [19:01] Yes, and somebody’s going to get hurt one day. [inaudible] . Nobody wants anybody…
James: [19:10] No, and, Stephen, people are motivated by different things. Some people it takes money. You got to hit him in their pocketbook unfortunately.
Stephen: [19:15] It does.
James: [19:15] Me, growing up, I was that kid that just as soon get a spanking because it was over. I’d go back, doing what I was doing, but man if you grounded me, whoo. That was my worst nightmare. You gotta do what you gotta do. [0:00] [
Stephen: [19:33] inaudible] now it’s [?] pumpkins.
James: [19:32] Jim, how about you? [0:00] [
Jim: [19:37] laughs] Me? I never got into trouble… [0:00] [
James: [19:41] laughs]
Jim: [19:41] because I’m like Eddie Haskell. Look at me like, "Oh I didn’t do it." They’d be like, "Oh, well, Jim could never do it." [0:00] [
James: [19:48] laughs]
Jim: [19:47] I was a terror.
Stephen: [19:47] I want to tell you all my favorite, I guess, paddling story was eighth grade science. My football coach taught it. He had walked out of the class for some reason, and everybody in the class was talking. We were all cutting up, you know what 13, 14 years old, teacher leaves you’re going to cut up. [20:14] He walked into class and said, "OK, everybody that was talking to the front of the room." We all went to the front of the room. What else were we going to do? He said, "OK, everybody line up. Everybody’s getting three licks." I went and sat back down. Everybody else got three licks. They looked at me and said, "He’s the only one smart enough to go sit back down."
James: [20:33] Gave you an out.
Stephen: [20:37] I made it through school without getting one, but it wasn’t because I didn’t deserve one.
James: [20:41] Amen. Jim, I normally wrap this thing, but y’all both being Floridians, I’m going to tee you up for this last question, and let you ask Stephen.
Jim: [20:56] The most hardest question of the day, can we say that? In this case, this one, he’s bleeding it. Stephen, we want to ask you, and [laughs] we already know the answer, but do you love what you do?
Stephen: [21:12] Oh, I definitely love what I do. [0:00] [
Jim: [21:21] laughs]
Stephen: [21:21] I never would have 25 years ago. I remember what my wife said, she’s going to put this in for the natural gas…I said, "What do I know about natural gas?" When I first started working here, the thing that confused me is people listen to me, employees. I’m like, "I know nothing about this stuff." [0:00] [
James: [21:36] laughs]
Stephen: [21:38] I realized it’s a great industry. It is going to be around a long time. It’s available, it’s out there. It is one of the best energy sources. It has allowed this country to become viable on its own and I believe we can be a balanced energy approach with renewables and natural gas. That is one of the things we need to be pushing as the country.
James: [22:10] I agree.
Jim: [22:10] Wow, did that sum it up, or what?
James: [22:17] I’m on board. I don’t know what you’re selling, sir, but I am buying. [0:00] [
Stephen: [22:21] laughs]
James: [22:23] Jimmy, you want to bring us home?
Jim: [22:25] Oh, absolutely. Stephen, on behalf of James and I, we can’t thank you enough. This has been an absolute pleasure. The passion, the commitment, the conviction in your voice in what you do. Like I said, your reputation in the industry is outstanding. People look to you for mentorship, for leadership, guidance. We appreciate having you in the industry. [22:48] We appreciate you being on here today. For all of our audience, please connect with Stephen. He’s a wonderful person. As you can see, he has a passion for it. If you have any questions about best practices, how things can be better, I know he would love the opportunity to share that. Also please follow FNGA, Florida Natural Gas Association. [23:09] Dale Calhoun, the staff, the team, and all the people in Florida that make up that great organization. Please follow that. APGA with Erin Kurilla. We’ve had her on before, another great organization. Just keep connecting the dots and learn. There’s so many great things out there. Anyways, again, Stephen, thank you so much. We appreciate having you on. [23:32] It’s been a pleasure, sir. To the audience, please stay safe out there. Do the right thing. God bless you. God bless our industry. Until the next time that we see you on Coffee with Jim and James, have a great and safe week. Take care everybody. [[23:46] background music]
James: [23:47] Thanks, Stephen. [[23:47] music]