Home » OPINION » Columns » ALAN TURNER — Michael Callahan has a big job covering most of state

ALAN TURNER — Michael Callahan has a big job covering most of state

The Electirc Power Association of Mississippi's area is represented by the wide swath of green.

The Electirc Power Association of Mississippi’s area is represented by the wide swath of green.

After growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Michael Callahan says that he figured out that football was one avenue to career success.

“I wound up going to the University of Southern Mississippi on a football scholarship,” he said in a recent meeting.  “I was the first member of my family to go to college, and I can thank football for that.”

At Southern Miss, he played guard on the team that was quarterbacked by Brett Favre, “and I was the guy who had the towel hanging off my rear,” he joked.

Unfortunately, his knees didn’t survive his whole college career, and after graduating from college, he decided to go to law school at Mississippi College.

“I guess I never really wanted to practice law, but I knew that a law degree would be important to me in my career,” he said.

After law school, he worked for several years as an investigator with the D.A.’s office in Hattiesburg, then practiced law for a time after that.  It was the connections he made in that context that ultimately helped him run for, and win, election to the Public Service Commission, and he was serving in that role when Katrina rolled in off the Gulf.

“That changed everything,” he said.  “I could see that there were going to be huge and lasting impacts from Katrina, things that would take 10 or 20 years to recover from.  It was certainly an interesting time to be a Public Service Commissioner.”

In total, he served 8 years on the Public Service Commission.

“I loved being a Public Service Commissioner, but I hated being a politician,” he said with a laugh.  “I was certainly glad I could do something to help out during a very difficult time.

He reached a point where he decided that “8 years was enough” and when he got a call from the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, he decided to throw his hat in the ring, being appointed as CEO of the group in early 2006.

He’s proud of some of his accomplishments at the EPAM, including a “great training program for hundreds of people who work at the various co-ops around the state”.

After learning about the associations, I was surprised at what a big piece of Mississippi they serve.  Most people probably think of Entergy or Mississippi Power as the giants in the state, and of course, they are huge enterprises.  However, as the graphic included here shows, a vast geographic part of the state is actually served by the co-ops, as well as having nearly 800,000 meters in operation. The co-ops in aggregate employ more than 2,800 people.  Either way you look at it, it’s a big business.

I asked him what concerns he has for the energy industry in Mississippi.

“Well, the biggest concern is Environmental Protection Agency regulations that if fully enacted, would basically shut down all coal-fired energy generation in Mississippi,” he said.  “That would have a terrific impact on our state.  There are seven states overall that are facing this challenge, and we’re one of them.”

He also said that there is a great need for more R & D in the energy industry, something that has been lacking in recent years.

“Anything you do in that regard is very costly,” he said.  “Who would want to build an experimental plant with all the risks attached.  Just look at what the Southern Co. has experienced with [the construction of] the Kemper plant.”

I also asked him if he was concerned about the potential for damage to the electrical grid from hacking by terrorists or foreign governments.

“Well, it’s something you’re always concerned about,” he said.  “But I believe that we’re a lot better prepared now than we were even 2 years ago, and I feel pretty confident that our infrastructure is safe and able to withstand attacks by enemies, domestic or foreign.”

What about the potential impact from another great storm such as Katrina?

“I hope I don’t have to see another one of those in my lifetime,” he said.  “Even so, although almost all of Mississippi was dark in the aftermath of the storm, we got the electricity restored, and we’re in a better position now than we were then.”

Overall, he’s optimistic about Mississippi’s economic future.

“The primary thing we need to focus on is having a great work force,” he said.  “We won’t grow the way we could without that, and we won’t have a great work force without good education.”  He sees that as a top priority for the Magnolia State, pointing out that he serves on several commissions and committees that focus on workforce development.

He lives in Madison with his wife Melissa and their son and 2 daughters.  Characterizing himself as a devoted family man, he is surrounded by family pictures in his office.

“Whenever I have a bad day, all I have to do is just look around me, and I know what it’s all for,” he said with a smile.

You can see video featuring Michael on our website, MSBusiness.com.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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