Women In Propane: Banking, Propane, And Five Kids: A Recipe For Success

Karen Duch was on maternity leave from her job as a mortgage banker in New London, Wisc., when her husband, Jeff, was laid off. Karen had just given birth to triplets—three girls—who were welcomed into the family by their brothers, ages 2 and 4.

Women In Propane profile by Butane-Propane News of Karen Dutch at Wolf River Propane in Wisconsin July 2019“With five kids under 5, we said, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’” Karen said.

Their answer—start a propane company. Jeff had experience in agronomy and the propane industry, and Karen had a business background, thus Wolf River Propane LLC was launched.

Seventeen years later, the company continues to grow organically providing propane, tanks, and propane services to residents of central Wisconsin. The company has two customer service representatives and five drivers with about 4000 active customers.

“It really has grown. We have added a second bulk plant site,” she said. “Over 85% of our customers are residential based; 15% are commercial/agricultural. We serve about six counties and most of them are rural.”

Duch continues to work full time as vice president of lending for Wolf River Community Bank while handling the payroll, compliance, and many of the administrative functions for Wolf River Propane mainly at night. “I thought at some point I might be able to give it [the work] to somebody else, but the business kept getting larger, so it never left my desk.”

Working in the mortgage industry, she runs into homeowners and developers who sometimes need propane. “There’s been a lot of synergy that way,” she said.

Looking back, the propane company’s beginnings seem kind of comical, she acknowledged. The couple launched the business out of their home and purchased one propane truck with a home equity line of credit. Karen continued working as a mortgage banker during the day and doing the propane company work at night. In addition to delivering propane and getting new business, Jeff worked 12-hour shifts at a dispatch company Friday through Sunday, so on Fridays, Karen would return phone calls over her lunch hour.

“Family just has to be patient with me,” she said, jokingly adding the triplets were always the best behaved because they had to be.

At first, Wolf River Propane only delivered propane to residential customers, but customers were asking for tanks so the company began offering them. In 2007, Jeff left his dispatch job and the following year, the couple hired their first employee to help handle customer service calls. A few years later, they built an office, or as Karen referred to it, “a shed in the backyard.”

“Everything we’ve done has been done on a shoestring,” she said. “The one thing I find interesting in the propane industry is, when starting a business, there’s no rule book. Everything is trial and error. There is no guidance to say, ‘This is what you need.’”  Although there are competitors, the company’s pricing and customer service have allowed it to grow. “The organic growth has been good for us. We can manage it over time,” Duch said.

It seems there isn’t much Karen can’t manage. There were three proms in the family this spring. The triplets, now 17, all have driver’s licenses. Sporting activities dominate her free time with almost every weekend spent attending some type of game—volleyball, cross-country, track, and soccer. The family does try to find time to go camping on the weekends when the weather is nice.

Her 21-year-old son is interested in welding; her 19-year-old son is studying business. “I’ve put him to task doing a variety of functions. He’s kind of shown an interest [in the family business],” she said.

Despite her busy schedule, Karen teaches a financial literacy class to second graders in the spring and sometimes fall—something she has done for 20 years. In addition, she has been treasurer of a local homeless shelter for the past three years and has served on various local chamber of commerce committees.

“I come from a military background; we moved around. That’s probably helped me a lot personality-wise,” Karen said. “You had to rediscover yourself all the time—that’s how you get connected and build relationships.” — Karen Massman VanAsdale

(Reprinted from Butane-Propane News (BPN), June 2019)

1939-1999: Celebrating 60 Years of Publishing

By William W. Clark …

To mark the 80th anniversary of BPN, we are reprinting here a comprehensive history of the magazine that first appeared in 1999. Written by then-publisher Bill Clark, this tells the story of BPN’s first 60 years. At the time he wrote this in January 1999, Clark had been with BPN since the end of World War II and had owned the magazine since 1969.

BPN celebrates 80th Anniversary as propane industry leading source for news info since 1939Nineteen-ninety-nine marks Butane-Propane News’ 60th year. Or is it really its 68th? Or, if you are one to literally believe the volume number published on this page, only its 31st?

All three ages have validity. BPN was actually born in 1931—68 years ago—as a section in a magazine, long defunct, called Western Gas. In fact, for many years after we became a separate magazine our motto was, “Headquarters for LP-Gas Information Since 1931.” The slogan was factually accurate for a number of years, but as the industry grew and matured, and as NPGA’s role expanded, we voluntarily relinquished our claim to the distinction. The association is now the true “headquarters.”

As for the volume number 31, that refers to the date when my wife and I took over ownership. Since the magazine had already been declared moribund by its previous owners, we decided to start afresh at Vol. 1.

Any way to calculate its age, BPN has been a part of the industry from the time propane marketing was beginning to emerge as a viable member of the family of fuels.

BPN’s roots are traceable to the mid-twenties—it seems to me it was 1925; while that date might not be accurate, it’s close—when a native Oklahoman named Jay Jenkins moved to Southern California and launched Western Gas. In those days, when air travel was virtually non-existent and long-distance trucking was in its infancy, the Western states were little more than an enclave. The Rocky Mountains were a major barrier to the east-west commerce, so the Western markets were primarily provincial; thus regional
publications were a healthy and growing industry.
BPN celebrates 80 years as the propane industry's leading source for news information since 1939 lpgWestern Gas was conceived as strictly a gas utility
publication, but it didn’t remain so forever.

As for the LPG business, it was largely centered in the mid-Eastern seaboard area, the product itself having first been stripped out of a mixture of hydrocarbons at a plant in Sistersville, W. Va. and having been introduced to the public as a residential fuel in 1912 in Pittsburgh. Growth was slow, even in the East. But in the 1920s two of the true pioneers in the business, the Kerr cousins, moved to Southern California and organized a business known as Rockgas. At about the same time, Western producers were also becoming interested in marketing the product.

And so was at least one gas utility, Southern Counties Gas Co., now a part of Southern California Gas Co. SoCounties saw the youngster as a means of entrée into markets beyond the reach of the gas mains, so about 1930 it began an active program of development. And Jay Jenkins, the astute business man, perceived the situation as an opportunity to expand his magazine’s readership and advertising potential. Thus was Butane-Propane News born as a section in Western Gas.

In those days, the product was generally delivered to market as a mixture, which was called “butane-propane.” Hence the rather clumsy name of the new section, which we and the former owners have chosen to perpetuate because of the magazine’s long-standing reputation, even though most of the marketed product is now predominantly propane.

As the decade of the’’30s wore on, transcontinental communications and travel became steadily more rapid, and the hump of the Rockies no longer posed a significant barrier to commerce. So, in 1937, Jay Jenkins decided to take Western Gas national, challenging the two New York-based magazines, the venerable American Gas Journal and the well-established Gas Age. He dropped the name “Western,” so the name became simply GAS. (Parenthetically, none of the three magazines is still in existence.)

Then, in 1939, he decided to sever BPN’s umbilical cord, making it a magazine in its own right. His timing, which under ordinary situations would have been excellent, proved a bit premature, as the entry of the U.S. into World War II two and a half years later stunted the growth of both magazines until Japan surrendered in 1945.

Paper was short, ink was probably short, everything that manufacturers produced was diverted to the war effort. Many consumer products were discontinued, prices were strictly controlled, and advertising suffered. Yet with government regulations proliferating (sound familiar?), it gave BPN an opportunity to play an important role in publishing and interpreting the often onerous and frequently confusing rules.

Postwar, the magazine proved a perfect fit for a rapidly growing industry. It was the age of moms-and-pops, with thousands of brand new entrepreneurs springing up every year. Many borrowed a few bucks, bought a truck, found a producer who would give them a helping hand, and began peddling cylinders around the countryside. Many others went into the bulk delivery business with money loaned by the banks or by a relative or two.
Butane-Propane News (BPN) celebrates 80 years as premier news source for propane LPG industry since 1939
Most of them needed education in handling the product. So BPN expanded its role as “Headquarters for LP-gas Information.” It was published in the old Reader’s Digest size, which fit neatly into a truck’s glove compartment. And it became in effect a traveling library for the owner/driver. The size proved very popular among the young entrepreneurs. It featured a “Letters” department, which printed and answered myriad technical questions, most of which were rather elementary, since most of the growing corps of marketers were neither chemists nor engineers. Over the years this department was handled by two “technical editors,” both very capable industry engineers. Some old-timers might still remember Lester Luxon, who fulfilled the role after the first man died. At the time, Luxon was chief engineer for Algas, which was then located in Southern California.

The company also published the “Handbook Butane-Propane Gases,” which proved very popular and went into several printings and updates during its life span. Again, this strengthened the magazine’s reputation as headquarters for
LP-gas information.

The late 1940s and the early 1950s were halcyon years for both GAS and Butane-Propane News. Both industries were roaring ahead with rapid growth—in the case of LPG, its growth reportedly matched that of the electronics industry. Advertising revenues zoomed. The tank business, in particular, was soaring. It seemed as if every street corner in Texas had sprouted a tank manufacturer.

Business was so good that Jay Jenkins, riding high, decreed that any company that did not buy two-page spreads would not find its ad in the front of the magazines (which at that time was a preferred position). Companies’ annual budgets of 24 full pages were not uncommon. In 1955, their peak year, both GAS and Butane-Propane News ran more than 1200 pages of advertising—100 pages per month—and the folio of many issues totaled 200 pages, ads and editorial combined, or more.

In about 1952, a man well versed in propane carburetion, Carl Abell, joined the staff. His initial assignment was to write the “Power Manual,” which proved an invaluable tool for marketers who were getting into the motor vehicle conversion business. This was at the time when gasoline-fueled vehicles, especially farm tractors, were low in power. By milling the heads to reduce the volume of the combustion chamber, mechanics could step up the compression ratio, increasing the engine’s power. But the low-octane gasolines of the era produced detonation, (knocking) so the engines were by necessity converted to burn higher-octane propane.

The fuel performed so efficiently that at least one manufacturer began supply factory-equipped propane buses. At one time the Chicago Transit Authority was operating 1700 of them. Until even more powerful diesels took over the bus and farm tractor markets, this method of providing extra power was rather widely used.
Butane-Propane News (BPN) is an indpendent media organization and the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939 and celebrates 80th anniversary in 2019
Carl Abell, incidentally, became editor of Butane-Propane News, remaining in that capacity until his death in 1958.

By 1953, most moms-and-pops had grown to the extent that pop no longer drove a delivery truck, so the old Reader’s Digest size didn’t seem to make sense any longer. Pop now had an office in which to do his reading. So Jenkins decided to enlarge the format to its present size.

During the time, the face of the industry was beginning to change. The trend toward consolidations in both the marketing and supplier segments was well under way. A number of regional marketing firms were already well established, and the push was on for them to become nationwide.

Two Western regionals, Petrolane and Suburban Gas out of Southern California, began what appeared to be a race to spread their wings across the country. Sacramento-based California Liquid Gas was not too far behind, at least for a time. Both Petrolane and Suburban Gas were among the first marketers to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. These companies, of course, have long
since been swallowed up by other national firms.

At the same time, tank manufacturers, a major source of income for the magazine, were beginning to step on each other’s toes, and so one by one most of them sold out to Trinity Steel. With the wild growth of prior years slowing perceptibly, Jay Jenkins, ever the astute businessman, saw the handwriting on the wall and sold both magazines to the Chilton Co., a moderate-sized publishing firm headquartered in Philadelphia. The deal was consummated in early 1956, the year after advertising revenues had peaked for each magazine. Things were never to be the same again.

In 1958, following the death of Carl Abell, I was named editor.

But there were frustrations that mixed with the joys of the job. One was the failure of agricultural flaming to find a market. In the early 1960s, producers were plagued by overproduction, and large-volume storages had not as yet attained the volumetric capacity that they have today. In the summer, producers were often forced to sell their product at give-away prices just to get rid of it.

So GPA and NPGA (then NLPGA) got together on a research and development program that they hoped would build new markets for the excess product. At the heart of it was a long-running series of seminars and cooperative programs with ag university professors to prove the viability of flaming as an alternative to pesticides.

But it never wholly caught on. Pesticides are easier to use, the chemical companies were underwriting a lot of the university’s research on their own products, and some farmers found the heat from the tractor-towed flamers a bit too uncomfortable. After all, when they could have air conditioned, radio equipped tractors with enclosed cabs, why put up with discomfort from any other source??

Then there was the carburetion market, which has never succeeded in becoming a profit center for marketers either. Too many problems. In the early 1950s, BPN launched a “Power Section” as a regular department, but the demise of the principal carburetion manufacturers—Century, Beam (a sellout), J&S, a company whose name escapes me (which sold out to American Bosch Arma, which ran it into the ground in a hurry), and others—reduced the advertising volume so sharply that it could no longer sustain the editorial effort.

During the 1960s there was a steady erosion in advertising, mostly because of these factors but partially because the Chilton Co. mounted only a feeble advertising space-selling effort. And also because of the mergers of both marketing companies and manufacturers, which reduced advertising lineage.

From almost the time it took over the magazine in 1956, Chilton Co. was unable to produce a winning P&L. For several years I kept studying the P&Ls, satisfying myself that I could make a go of it with even fewer ad pages by cutting out corporate overhead, eliminating certain staff positions, and dropping some unprofitable activities. It was a matter of the economics of small, lean and mean vs. overstuffed larger companies. But I was given no opportunity to prove my thesis.

Not, that is, until 1969, when a piece of bad news proved to be happy news for me. A “palace” revolt, in which I was only tangentially involved, ended up with the firing of the publisher and my being named publisher as well as editor. Subsequent office politics resulted in GAS being moved to Houston and the company deciding to discontinue BPN. I was not fired—my jobs were simply eliminated, and I was rewarded with a rather puny severance check.

After its demise was announced, a partner (whom I later bought out) and I decided to keep the magazine going. Even though some advertisers quit us because they didn’t think a broken-down editor could run a business, we survived—and thrived. Fortunately, it didn’t take much capital to keep it running long enough to finally reassure the skeptics.

The way has not always been easy, as witness the 1970s. It produced some setbacks for the industry and for the magazine, due in large part to a stupid decision by President Nixon to impose price controls on the economy to counter a modest inflationary trend. Ironically, his action and the ensuing actions by government bureaucrats eventually helped send inflation into orbit. Even though he saw the light enough to lift price controls on most products a year or two after he imposed them, he retained them on various petroleum products for most of the decade. In fact, it was not until Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981 that the controls were removed from propane.

The decade was a nightmare for producers and marketers alike due to the proliferation of government rules and the burgeoning of a vast bureaucracy, which evolved into today’s Energy Department. The end result of all this was the prolongation of a “crisis” in the petroleum business that was largely government induced. It was also a decade that was held hostage to a Middle East cartel that sent prices skyrocketing and brought about two brief gasoline shortages.

Among the stupid controls were allocations rules that tied sellers of petroleum products to buyers and buyers to sellers. In view of the situation, a number of producers cut their close marketing ties to marketers. Since government mandates forbade marketers from changing suppliers and suppliers from abandoning marketers, production no longer felt the need to cozy up to marketers, for the latter were a captive market. Accordingly, there was a period when every ring of the phone brought trepidation in our offices as we waited for the word that another producer was dropping his advertising. They figured they didn’t need us now.

All in all, though, the past 30 years have been the most rewarding for the magazine, as well as for its younger brother, The Weekly Propane Newsletter, founded in 1971, and The International Butane-Propane Newsletter. Even the 1970s were not without at least one major compensation. With the profusion of controls and the attendant confusion, marketers thirsted for information out of Washington, and it was our role to help bring it to them. In fact, the 1970s were so replete with governmentally-induced problems that a separate history could be written about them.

Things have since settled down, but new government-created traumas still exist. As of today, even though price and allocation controls are long gone, government still hangs like an albatross around the industry’s collective neck. In a most disheartening sort of way, though, it does keep everything interesting for a publication. However, we love the industry enough that we wish it weren’t so.

Advocacy, Networking, and Much More in D.C.

(July 11, 2019) — For a group of industry delegates from New England, Propane Days 2019 opened with a full day of visits to legislators’ offices and closed with a member of Congress coming to visit them.
Propane Days DC 2019 photo
Propane Days 2019 in Washington, D.C. drew propane LPG industry members to meet with legislators and staff. Nearly 250 attendees participated in lobbying Washington.Propane Days, the National Propane Gas Association’s (NPGA) annual event in Washington, D.C., draws members to meet with legislators and their staffs. This year, nearly 250 registered attendees participated.

Among them were eight members of the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE) who formed a delegation representing Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. During the first day of the event, the group visited the offices of four senators and three representatives. Six other PGANE members formed a delegation representing Connecticut and visited the offices of the two senators and five representatives from that state.

With this year’s scheduling changes, the first day of Propane Days began with the Welcome Breakfast and NPGA Legislative Issues Briefing presented by the association’s new chairman and members of its public and government affairs staff.
Propane Days 2019 in Washington, D.C. hosted more than 250 propane industry members to USA capitol to meet with Congress
Randy Thompson, founder and senior advisor at ThompsonGas LLC, had become chairman of NPGA the previous day. He opened the morning’s presentation and told the delegates, “Your being here is one of the best ways we can influence policy. The legislators see that you have spent your own money to come here to advocate for your issues.”

After Thompson spoke about the “why” of Propane Days, members of NPGA’s public and government affairs staff presented the “how.” They explained the four things that make a good meeting in a legislator’s office: tell them who you are, introduce the issue, describe the impact of the issue, and make the ask. They then roleplayed a couple of meetings, showing things to do and not do when talking with legislators and their staff.

After the breakfast, the PGANE northern region delegation made its way to Capitol Hill for a busy day of meetings, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending with the last one at 4:30 p.m.

“Coming out as a single industry to Capitol Hill does send a message,” Denis Gagne, senior vice president of supply and acquisitions at Eastern Propane & Oil (Rochester, N.H.), told BPN. “We have been doing it for 14 years, so we are known.”

Gagne, who accompanied this PGANE delegation on several of its meetings, had assumed the role of chairman-elect of NPGA the previous day. “The whole idea is to educate the Hill about our industry and the challenges that we have,” he said. “Especially in this day and age, consumers have been educated with a lot of wrong information. We have to speak to educate people who make regulations and make laws.”

Jones Act, Joint Meeting
NPGA asked delegates to focus on five issues this year. They suggested that delegates choose two issues to discuss during each meeting and then give the legislator a packet that includes information about all five issues. To help delegates, it also supplied one-page issue briefs covering each of the issues.

The delegates from New England took these issues and information to the offices of their legislators and, crucially, told the staffers about their own experiences and how these issues affect their businesses and their customers.

“I try to bring specific examples that I’ve heard from my members, as we discuss the issues of Propane Days or other legislative items,” said Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of PGANE. “I keep those in the back of my mind so we can bring them forward and discuss them at appropriate times during the conversation. I think those specific examples really stay with the staff when you’re telling a story and you can make it personal and talk about a real-life experience you’ve had.”

One issue chosen for this year’s Propane Days was the Jones Act; the ask was that Congress enact a waiver from the Jones Act for propane shipments. The delegates from New England had a special interest in this issue.

“This causes propane to cost more for their constituents,” Anderson said. “They’re all familiar with LIHEAP [Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program] in the Northeast, so we bring that in and we say, ‘When it’s really cold, people run out of LIHEAP money, and one of the reasons is because we’re paying a premium to bring gas from halfway around the planet instead of domestically bringing it up from our own shores and buying American propane.”
Propane Days DC photo 2019 butane propane news the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
Peter Iacobucci, general manager of Superior Plus Propane (Whitinsville, Mass.) and chairman of PGANE, also said the Jones Act is a key issue. A repeal or waiver to it could help New England companies and consumers get an affordable, adequate, and reliable supply of propane during pivotal times in the winter season, he added.

“I started in this industry in 1986 and almost immediately saw the challenges associated with the Jones Act my first winter season,” Iacobucci explained. “The distribution of wholesale propane in New England is limited to three basic avenues: pipeline (not actually in New England), rail, and shipping terminals. Weather conditions play a key role on supply and demand; when there is a pipeline disruption or an issue with rail, the distribution infrastructure can get taxed, leaving New England companies to rely solely on the shipping terminals for supply. As inventories drive downward, qualified ships needed to transport American-produced propane to U.S. ports are nonexistent and suppliers have to rely on foreign shippers bringing foreign product into the U.S. from foreign ports. The U.S. exports propane to other countries while here in New England we have to bring foreign product in from overseas. That doesn’t really make sense, does it?”

At one of the Propane Days meetings, the PGANE delegation teamed up with members of the Rocky Mountain Propane Gas Association (RMPGA) to visit the office of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. The senator has introduced a bill that would exempt propane shipments from the Jones Act.

“It resonated with the senator’s staff when the members from Utah talked about how their prices go up because they have to buy propane from further away when we have bought the propane that’s local to them because we can’t buy the propane that’s close to us,” Anderson said. “It’s crazy to be driving up the prices for our energy consumers when if we could just have a waiver, we could bring propane right up the coast to New England from American-produced sources rather than from Russia, Algeria, or Northern Europe.”

Other Issues and Asks
Another issue targeted on Propane Days was alternative fuel tax credits. Here, the ask was that Congress extend the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit and the Alternative Fuel Refueling Infrastructure Tax Credit for five years.

A third issue was alternative fuel corridors. The ask was that the legislator ensure that propane is eligible for grant funding opportunities for the installation of alternative fueling infrastructure under any transportation or infrastructure bill, including S. 674, the Clean Corridors Act of 2019.

“It is important to expand that infrastructure so we have more options to fuel our cars with propane,” said David Richard of D.F. Richard Energy (Dover, N.H.).

A fourth issue was the Drive-Safe Act and the ask was that the legislator support and cosponsor this bill.

“That was one of our criticals today, bringing the 18 to 21 age group into the workforce,” said Judy Taranovich, president and owner of Proctor Gas (Proctor, Vt.). “We lose them. When they turn 18 and graduate from high school, they’re not going to wait until 21 to find a job and come to work at a propane company; they’re going to apprentice as a carpenter, a plumber, or an electrician. We want the ones that want to get out of school and get right to work, so having a place for them to get started would be wonderful. I think that’s one thing that a lot of the congressmen and senators, across the party lines, can see as a good thing.”

The fifth issue selected by NPGA was carbon labeling. Here, the ask was that Congress enact language to require carbon footprint information be included on EnergyGuide labels that are placed on consumer appliances.

“One of the things that I loved that was in the NPGA packet this year was the yellow sheet that showed the EnergyGuide tags and visually showed what we want them to add to this tag,” said Anderson. “The staffers immediately understood what it was and the picture made it much easier to discuss. I think they will remember that issue.”

In addition to covering these issues, the delegates asked the legislators to consider joining the Propane Caucus.

They also invited each legislator to contact PGANE to arrange a site visit to a propane marketer in their district. “A lot of members of our association are realizing that site visits get results because you probably get a far more attentive legislative person, whether it be a congressman or a senator, and they get a better understanding of not only the product itself, but of the people and what we do,” Gagne told BPN.

The Meetings
Each meeting at a legislator’s office started with brief introductions. Industry delegates shared with legislative staffers their connections to the district—where they live, where they went to school, restaurants they frequent, etc., as well as how many people they employ and how many customers they have in the district.
They then discussed the two issues that had been selected for that meeting. Anderson tailored her message to each visit, based on the legislator’s committee assignments, things she saw in the office, the areas of expertise of the staff who showed up for the meeting, and anything else that hinted at the interests of the staffers and the legislator.

“That way, you make it personal and get to something that’s an issue they can really get behind,” she told BPN. “I saw a staff person looking at our clean air flyer, so we stopped and brought that into the conversation. The response was very positive: ‘Oh, I didn’t know that about propane.’ Now we’ve got them thinking about it as a green, alternative energy.”

As each meeting ended, Anderson left behind materials with additional information, including the packet from NPGA with the five issue briefs in addition to two one-pagers produced by PGANE; one focused on security and the other on renewables and cleaner air. Those issues have resonated with legislators in past meetings, she explained. During the joint meeting at the office of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, RMPGA executive director Tom Clark also gave the staffer a copy of BPN’s book, “Propane In America: The First 100 Years.”

In all the visits, Anderson also left her business card and invited the legislator’s staff to reach out to her anytime they get a propane-related call or complaint from a constituent.

“My members have been phenomenal in getting those problems solved,” Anderson told BPN. “That creates goodwill between our industry and the legislative office. Those offices do feel, I think, thankful to us for solving that problem for them and they return the favor.”

Anderson also invited legislators and staffers to a reception organized by NPGA being held that evening.

The Reception
This year’s Propane Days was the fifth Taranovich had attended. She commented the event gives members of the propane industry an opportunity to get their story out at a time when they are being greatly outspent in advertising and marketing by electric companies.

“Each year, our group seems to get a little bit bigger and more engaging with both staff and the senators and congressmen because of the recognition—‘I met you last year,’” she said. “It is advantageous for us to come back and say, ‘Here we are again. We’re still working and still providing jobs. We’re a good industry, a clean industry, and we have a story to tell you.’ Little by little, we’re making inroads.”

For Richard of D.F. Richard Energy, this was his first visit to Propane Days. “I found it a very dynamic experience,” he said. “It was a great way to enlighten our elected leaders on the issues for our industry.”

Iacobucci, too, was making his first visit to Propane Days. “It was exciting to see the industry come together as one,” he said. “I was fortunate that the company that I work for (Superior Plus Propane) allowed me to take the time to represent our company and our industry with the group from New England (PGANE). As chairman of PGANE this year, it was a great opportunity to help spread our message to the senators and congressional representatives of this great country.

“I will definitely participate in the event next year,” he added, “because I truly believe that solid representation sends a clear message to our leaders in Washington. Our industry is strong and our voices need to be heard.”

Anderson noted that during Propane Days, she also points out landmarks and other things of interest on Capitol Hill. “It really is very fun,” she said. “You get to see kind of a look behind the curtain here. We stopped in the tunnels under the Senate buildings to show our first-time attendees the old Senate train that ran between the Senate and Capitol. We also stopped in the rotunda at the Russell Building where all the television interviews take place. Next year we are trying to coordinate a group visit to the White House. I feel like I’m half tour guide on some of these events!”

The meetings completed, the PGANE group walked to the Congressional Reception organized by NPGA and gathered under a sign that said “New England.” During the reception, Rep. Chris Pappas (N.H.) arrived, made his way to that part of the room, and spoke with the delegates. Accompanying the freshman representative was the staffer the PGANE delegates had met with earlier in the day.

“It was a very good day,” Anderson told BPN at the close of the reception. “We met with this congressman and the staff of another brand-new congressman and got to educate them about our industry. We spent some time talking about the industry in general so they know what propane is and who uses propane in their districts.” — Steve Relyea

Using Experience To Deal With Natural Disasters

For many people in the Midwest, lessons learned during the flooding of 1993 are not easily forgotten. In that year of record-setting rain levels, many people were taken by surprise at how fast heavy rain could cause large, valuable items to simply float away. “Those like me who spent time in 1993 in a canoe with a rope rescuing tanks on the Kaw River are much more likely to avoid a situation like that again,” said Greg Noll, executive director of the Propane Marketers Association of Kansas (PMAK). “There is plenty of information on flood preparation available from PERC, but those in our industry who lost tanks and other equipment during heavy flooding are extra vigilant about preparing for keeping their assets from being washed away. Since 1993, they’ve had 26 years to plan.”

Professional advice on How To Prepare Propane Customers In the event of a natural disaster reports BPN-the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939  July 2019In March of 2019, flooding early in the month started to impact Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, according to Nebraska Propane Gas Association executive director Lynne Schuller. By March 18, the governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, declared a state of emergency and called the flood damage “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” The floodwaters resulting from the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers overflowing their levees affected the Greater Omaha area and many others. In Iowa, there were catastrophic problems as 30 levees failed south of Council Bluffs, flooding many towns and highways. As much as 15 feet of water closed Interstate 29 from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border with further damage all the way to St. Joseph, Mo. The interstate reopened in late May, but more communities in Missouri continued to be affected into June as cresting rivers threatened and breached levees across many counties in northern and central Missouri. By late May and early June, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were also facing challenges of flooding.
How to prepare propane marketers in the event there is a natural disaster such as flooding, tornado, earthquake, reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
As initial flooding occurred in March, Ray Collins, propane safety director for Sapp Bros. Petroleum (Omaha, Neb.), went with a Federated Insurance representative to assess damage at his company’s many locations in Nebraska and Iowa. “Every location had problems to deal with. While some tanks had floated away in certain areas, others were just dealing with impassable roads. Getting to customers amid flooded roads has been a challenge,” Collins said. “We had to keep delivering propane as we still had cold weather after a warm spell following the flooding.” As for flooded and dislodged tanks, many were able to be reset. “We are working on getting tanks reset with all new regulators and new lines. The regulators can’t be salvaged as too much floating silt gets in the diaphragm,” Collins explained. “The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has done a good job of retrieving tanks. We were able to identify and retrieve 12 of our tanks that floated away.”

Nebraska association’s Schuller said EPA hired a St. Louis company to pick up tanks in Nebraska and Rawhide Chemoil agreed to collect the tanks. “It is good if retail propane companies know the serial number of their tanks or have their names on them. If they own the tanks, they can come get them,” said Jennifer Weiss, Rawhide Chemoil’s president. “We’ve been receiving cylinders as well as tanks. So far about 20 tanks have come to us. Most companies have done a good job of securing tanks to avoid having them wash away. We do have one with a concrete block attached that still got away. It is good to turn tanks off when flood waters are threatening and chain the tanks to a large tree.”

With the Arkansas River flooding, many residents in Fort Smith, Ark. could only access their homes by boat. Arkansas Propane Gas Association executive director Sherman Murray noted that only one bridge in Fort Smith across the river remained open. The rest were closed. “We did get an hours-of-service extension,” Murray said. “Bridges out in Fort Smith and Conway present challenges. For companies with only one storage facility, it is taking a while to get deliveries done. Fortunately, it is June and demand for propane is nowhere near where it is in the winter months.” In Kansas, PMAK’s Noll knew of no retailers affected at their plant or storage facility. “We’re in unchartered territory though with so many Corps of Engineers flood reservoirs having water that needs to be released,” Noll said. “We’ve still got rainfall exceeding the releasing.”
Tips For Propane companies should a Natural Disaster such as tornado, flooding, earthquake occur reports BPN july 2019
Mother Nature provided a double-dose of trouble in Missouri as both flooding and tornadoes hit the state simultaneously. The state capital, Jefferson City, is situated on the Missouri River, which was expected to threaten the historic flood levels of 1993. Missouri Propane Gas Association’s CEO Steve Ahrens noted that marketers have been taking steps to prepare for flooding but the tornadoes caused other problems.

“One local propane marketer, whose retail location is in the river bottoms, took the precaution to tie down tanks on the lot and move his operations to another office,” Ahrens said. “The company’s bobtails were positioned on higher ground. Then on May 22, a tornado tore through the community, inflicting severe damage in several areas. Taken in the storm were several box trucks that had been parked next to the relocated bobtails, but the marketer’s trucks were not damaged.”

Other tornadoes have hit throughout Missouri, causing disruptions ranging from trees felled on top of propane tanks, to tanks blown away by storm debris, to valves being sheared off a dispenser at a hardware store. Ahrens noted that at one time, 530 Missouri routes had been compromised by flooding while the office vehicle was damaged by windborne orange road-construction barrels. “While our marketers have gone through both floods and tornadoes before, we’re trying to support them in whatever way we can with both situations being present at the same time. We are encouraging everyone to evaluate each customer site carefully. It would be easy to move too quickly between emergencies and overlook dangers that are not immediately obvious.”
Tips on What Propane Gas companies need to do to Prepare in the event of a natural disaster such as tornado, flooding reports BPN july 2019
Ray-Carroll cooperative, with 10 propane locations in the northwest portion of Missouri, had some flooding near two of its locations as levees were breached. “We’re taking a lot of precautions, securing a lot of tanks, and we’ve raised the levees with sandbags. The Brunswick, Mo. plant was the first to have water shut off the access to the bulk plant and we’re prepared for challenges at more facilities,” said Paul Harris, fuel division manager at Ray-Carroll. Two more breaches occurred on June 1, one day after Harris spoke to BPN. “On June 1, the Levasy, Mo. levee failed and we went to secure tanks as quickly as possible,” said Ray-Carroll’s Dean McFatrich. “A levee break in Norborne, Mo. is also causing problems. We are dealing with numerous road closures and that makes getting anywhere difficult. Many small communities along the Missouri River basin are being threatened.”

Propane often plays a role in disaster relief. “Blue Rhino, a Ferrellgas brand, is pleased to be the exclusive propane provider for Operation BBQ Relief (OBR), a nonprofit that has been providing thousands of hot barbecue meals since the large Joplin, Mo. tornado eight years ago,” said Scott Brockelmeyer, Ferrellgas senior vice president, marketing and media relations.

In 2019, as of the end of May, Operation BBQ Relief served 1960 meals in Franklin and Alto, Texas, following a tornado; 3681 meals in Freeport, Ill., after a flood; and 15,830 meals in Fremont, Neb., following a flood. (Operation BBQ Relief was featured in BPN, Oct. 2017.)

On June 1, BPN joined Operation BBQ Relief as they deployed in Linwood, Kan. amid a large number of residents and volunteers doing cleanup after a tornado on May 28 did severe damage in the small town. Jon Orr, who led Operation BBQ Relief efforts at its first deployment in Joplin eight years ago, was leading the relief work in Linwood. “We had 500 for lunch today and expect more for dinner this evening,” Orr told BPN. “It’s always difficult to estimate how much food to prepare, but we’ve learned to adjust quickly over the years to meet the need.” — Pat Thornton

(Reprint: Butane-Propane News, July 2019)

Small Business Outlook Rebounds, Health Care Complexity Challenges

Data from the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index the second quarter 2019 indicate that employers are experiencing a boost in confidence about the state of the national economy and their financial future. The overall index score increased to 68.7, up from 65.6 the prior quarter, indicating that nearly 69% of small business owners currently have a positive outlook about their companies and the small business environment.

US Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index of second quarter 2019 indicates small business positive outlook on economy, futureThis 3.1-point rebound follows a drop during the first three months of 2019 and matches the
largest quarter-to-quarter increase in economic confidence since the index began in 2017.

The Chamber of Commerce remarks that it is hard to pinpoint what is behind the uptick. The survey doesn’t ask respondents why they feel the way they do. “But let’s not forget: the first quarter also featured the longest federal government shutdown in history,” the Chamber observes. “Government shutdowns—and the unpredictability they bring— are usually not known for stoking business optimism about the state of the economy or the health of business.”

During the second quarter, with no shut-down in sight, small manufacturers, women-owned small businesses, and northeastern small businesses, all notched noticeable upturns in optimism about the national economy. Again, it’s not provable cause and effect, but there are some interesting statistics from the quarter: 59% of small businesses say the U.S. economy is in good health, up six percentage points from 53% a quarter earlier; 69% of manufacturers feel positive about the national economic outlook, up 16 percentage points from the previous quarter; female-owned
businesses have a renewed optimism, 58%, about the U.S. economy during the quarter, only one percentage point below that of male-owned businesses; 58% of Northeast small businesses believe the U.S. economy is in good health, up from 51% the quarter prior and 12% above a year ago, when 46% expressed that view.

The second quarter’s index also casts a spot- light on one of the most complex and time-consuming chores for small business owners—navigating health care insurance options. Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents say the process of selecting health insurance plans is time consuming, and one in every five small business owners say they do not have enough information to make informed deci- sions about health care options.

When they begin to seek out guidance about health care options, these small business owners most commonly turn to brokers, consultants, or agents, 32%, with fewer depending on online search engines, 9%, or seeking advice from other business owners, 7%.

“It’s pretty time consuming to navigate and understand the best options for your employees,” said Natalie Kaddas, president and CEO of Kaddas Enterprises in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her small manufacturing company works with a broker, who each year provides information on cost increases for her current plan and alternative plans worth considering. Still, Kaddas says she and her staff could use more guidance.

“I wish I had more data and information,” Kaddas said. “I feel like some of my employees are choosing a plan without a lot of information. There’s an educational component that’s missing, and I don’t necessarily have the skill set to try and bridge that gap, but I try.”

When it comes time to select a health care plan, cost is a top concern. One in five small business owners say their top priority when considering plans is keeping monthly premiums low. Another 20% prioritize minimizing out-of-pocket costs like copays and deductibles. Meanwhile, 9% of owners say flexibility and variety in choice is paramount when considering their options, followed by access to quality hospitals and treatments, 7%, and the quality and size of provider networks, 6%.

“For small business owners, health care costs and complexity continue to gobble up time and resources that could otherwise be spent growing their companies and creating more jobs,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, July 8, 2019)