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Wilson Company Makes Objects Of Beauty From Unlikely Source

When you hear the words “tobacco leaves” the first images that come to mind most likely don’t include anything remotely beautiful or refined. It’s not surprising considering how tobacco is traditionally used – to say nothing of its value as a cash crop in North Carolina’s economy for generations.

What is surprising is how Artisan Leaf, a company in Wilson, transforms ordinary tobacco leaves into extraordinary objects of obsession. One look at the exquisite creations this small but mighty four-man company produces in its production facility located in the city’s historic downtown digs will tell you why.

Artisan Leaf isn’t merely the name of the company. It also happens to be the brand name of the product the company manufactures and uses in the fabrication process it has become famous for. A meticulous, labor of love honed and perfected to make possible the magnificent walls, ceilings, floors, tables and other home furnishings you will find here and nowhere else. All of which makes Artisan Leaf worthy of a visit whether you’re in the market for one-of-a-kind home furnishings or you just want to see for yourself what remarkable, home-grown craftmanship looks like up close and personal. Visit www.artisanleaf.com to learn more.


Huntersville Couple Makes Beautiful, Functional Leather Goods

Joel and Kerri Mills know it’s the thought that counts. That has been the backbone of the couple’s leather goods company, Choice Cuts Industries. From their workshop in the public power community of Huntersville, the Millses design and create watchbands, bags, wallets, dog collars, journals, and more.

A Choice Cuts design is an investment, meant to be used day in and day out and designed to stand the test of time. Every product is made of the highest quality leather, sourced only from U.S. tanneries, and handmade by one of the Millses. There’s no secret, only hard work and uncompromising standards.

It all started when Joel Mills grew tired of frequently replacing store-bought leather watchbands. A graphic designer by training, he thought he could make a better band—and he did. Friends wanted a Mills-made band, so he sold them. Along the way, Kerri Mills also fell in love with the process; she was tired of frequently replacing store-bought leather bags, so she made a better one. The collection grew from there. Intentional, beautiful, and functional, these are pieces of everyday luxury. See for yourself and learn more at www.choicecutsind.com.

Faces of Public Power: Marcus Freeman, Always Giving Back

Nice to Meet You

Marcus Freeman’s workdays are filled with compliance, regulatory, and risk management tasks — as ElectriCities Manager of Compliance and Risk Management, he assists communities with compliance of NERC AND SERC reliability standards, manages load forecasts for all member communities, and stays on top of risk analysis and risk management across the board. “Risk management is all about being proactive,” Freeman explains of his varied and full plate.

Always Giving Back

Proactive could describe Marcus’s approach to his off time, too. He has a passion for volunteering. Whether he’s on a Habitat for Humanity job site, working a shift at the Durham Food Bank, or serving up meals at Shepherd’s Table in downtown Raleigh, offering a friendly helping hand to others is important to Marcus. Here at ElectriCities, he helps organize the annual back-to-school school supply drive for local children. And every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Marcus gives blood to the American Red Cross, a tradition he started in the late ’90s.

Marcus says he’s seen firsthand the struggles some families in need face. “Everybody does not have the same opportunities, but that shouldn’t define a person. Being in a position to help, whether it’s financially or physically, and lend a helping hand — I’ll always do that when I can.” He looks to an old proverb as inspiration: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Inspiration comes from his own family, too. Another one of Marcus’s volunteer endeavors is coaching youth baseball. He fell into it when his son, Zachary, who’s now 11, started playing ball at age 4. “After Zach wanted to take on baseball and devote time to it, it easily developed into a passion for me.” Marcus and his wife also have a daughter, almost-8-year-old Evelyn. They like to get the whole family involved in giving back, and haven’t let the pandemic stop that spirit. “Because of Covid, we’ve switched it up. Since we can’t go to many places to volunteer as a family, we’ve been donating to Goodwill and Salvation Army.” The Freeman family has made almost 6 trips since March, with the kids helping purge closets and choose what puzzles and games to donate. “But it wasn’t just about house cleaning. It’s about still trying to find a way to give back.”

We Want to Hear from You!

We want to shine a light on the folks who keep the lights on, the faces behind the public power that drives our communities. We’ll be sharing a few stories about our team here at ElectriCities, from what inspires us to some of our favorite hobbies.

But this isn’t just about us. We want to hear from you! Do you have an employee who goes above and beyond? What about a team member or leader with an impressive extracurricular accomplishment? Let us know by sending your stories and ideas here.

Captain Public Power — City of New Bern’s Superhero

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Captain Public Power! The Captain has been helping the City of New Bern Department of Public Utilities electric department spread the word about the value of public power, energy savings tips, and much more since 2017. No one knows Captain Public Power’s real identity, of course, but it’s said that the superhero has never been seen in the same room with city employee Lester Fonville. An Electric Meter Technician, Fonville has been with the city for over 20 years. His primary job consists of trouble shooting, reprogramming, installing, and testing commercial electric meters, but the smiles from his neighbors and the community are what motivates him.

“You will often find Captain Public Power at local schools, parades, and festivals, extolling the virtues of public power and talking to children about how to conserve energy. He’s been a popular attraction—and an effective tool for communicating the value of public power,” says Colleen Roberts, New Bern’s public information officer and brand manager. Look for Captain Public Power during Public Power Week or at any event where the New Bern community comes together and learn more about the value that public power brings to New Bern.

Rediscover The Joys Of Shop Class In New Bern

The public power community of New Bern, North Carolina is not only an enchanting haven for boating enthusiasts and history buffs, but the City reflects a distinct architectural heritage like nowhere else. Situated where the Neuse and Trent rivers meet, this port city was named in honor of the founding patron’s home city of Bern, Switzerland, and is the second oldest European-settled colonial city in the state.

From Georgian and Federal-style buildings, to Greek revival and Victorian mansions, each showcases the exceptional craftsmanship of the skilled artisans of their day. Now, there’s a group of citizens sharing their love of woodworking with a new generation of would-be carpenters, hobbyists, and makers.

The brainchild of owner and master carpenter Maurice Howland, Shop Class, is a DIY community workshop located in downtown New Bern where residents and visitors can turn wood into beautiful, functional works of art. Assisted by veteran woodworker and instructor, Joe Clay, Shop Class is both a classroom and a creative workspace for skilled woodworkers and novices alike to share their passion for the craft, while learning a few tricks of the trade along the way. Visit www.shopclass-nb.com to learn more.


Celebrating the Power of Community

Public Power Week is October 4 – 10, 2020

More than 70 communities across our state benefit from public power. These municipal-owned utilities are a tremendous local value, providing safe, reliable electric service and outstanding customer service to more than 1.2 million North Carolinians. “As hometown utilities, public power communities always have the best interest of their local residents at heart,” says Roy Jones, CEO of ElectriCities, a nonprofit organization that works with public power communities across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. October 4 – 10 is national Public Power Week, a time to pause and celebrate public power communities, especially as they persevere through the effects of the pandemic facing our country.

Public power has a rich tradition in North Carolina that dates back to 1889, when the City of Statesville first began using electric lights instead of gas streetlamps to illuminate its downtown. Today, North Carolina ranks among the top 10 providers of public power in the nation.

This year’s Public Power Week theme — The Power of Community, Neighbors Serving Neighbors — reflects public power’s commitment to meet the needs of the local communities it serves, no matter what the times bring. Celebrations may look different this year, but the hometown advantage of living in a public power community remains strong and vibrant.

Learn more about the benefits of public power at www.electricities.com/benefits/.

Stay-Home Smarts

As we all adjust to spending more time at home, be mindful of your energy and water usage. The last thing you need is a surprisingly high bill! These tips will help you save money and go easy on your community’s utility systems.

Sleep on it. Run dishwashers, washers, and dryers overnight to avoid peak usage times.

Let the sun in. Lighting accounts for 12% of your energy usage. Turn off lights when you leave a room, and use natural light when possible.

Fan fare. All that natural light might heat things up, but remember: Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. Turn them off when you’re not in the room.

Unplug. Disconnect devices and chargers when not in use. Try using a power strip as a central turn-off point.

Bathroom rules. Never flush anything other than toilet paper down the toilet. This includes paper towels and wipes that say they’re “flushable;” neither item dissolves and both will clog up the wastewater system.

Local Sweets: Honey Harvested in Albemarle

Along with that irresistible sweet taste, honey is known for its health benefits — stir a teaspoonful into hot tea to soothe a sore throat, or combat seasonal allergies with the most local harvest possible. Around here, a great option is the NC Bee Exchange. The small-batch operation in the Stanly County public power community of Albemarle offers fresh, raw honey, as well as herbal-infused varieties like ginger and lavender.

“Honey has been the same for thousands of years, from ancient times to today,” says owner Peter Henkenjohann. “It’s a very untouched natural food source.” Henkenjohann and his wife stumbled into beekeeping a few years ago when they wanted a homemade sweetener for their daily cups of tea. They set up a few hives in their backyard, and it quickly became a beloved hobby.

Three years ago, the Henkenjohanns scaled up their beekeeping and started NC Bee Exchange. Along with jars of honey by the half-pound, pound, and two-pound jar, they also offer beeswax candles, balms, and more. “We’re trying to utilize as much from the bees as we can,”  Henkenjohann says. Stock your pantry at ncbeeexchange.com.


Faces of Public Power: Lori Patterson, Visual Thinker

Lori poses with her dog, Waffles, alongside a birthday portrait from the Communications Team (designed by Dave Avis).

Nice to Meet You

As Brand + Creative Design Strategist for ElectriCities, I create visual pieces that help convey the message and value of public power. ElectriCities and NC Public Power encompass a great deal of detail and information. It is our team’s duty to collaborate, visually support that message, and present things in ways that are easy to comprehend – all while staying within our brand guidelines. Based on the need, that could be anything from creating print/web/branding materials for member cities and towns to graphic support for our in-house departments.

Visual Thinking

Lori Patterson is a visual thinker. As ElectriCities Brand + Creative Design Strategist, she does graphic design work on all sorts of collateral, such as bill inserts, brochures, event programs and signage, PowerPoints, the annual report, and of course, those beautiful social media images we all love to post and share. (She also designed the Weekly Wire you’re reading right now!) It’s probably no surprise, that when Lori shuts down her work computer for the day, she taps into her inner artist. “It’s nice to do something creative but not on a screen,” Lori says.

Lori’s main pastime is painting, something she’s dabbled in since college. “When I’m out and about, I’m always trying to see things that I might paint later,” she says. Whenever inspiration strikes, she takes a picture to refer back to when she gets to her home studio. “Landscapes, florals, and sunsets are my favorite.” Recently, Lori’s paint of choice has been gouache. “It’s a very versatile medium because you can mix water into it to dilute the opacity.” This gives her the flexibility to create a piece with solid saturated color or one with a lighter watercolored effect, all with the same paint.Over the years, Lori has played around with different mediums, including acrylic on canvas. A decade ago, she even created custom colorful pet portraits for a Raleigh boutique. “Pets are fun to do,” she says, because you almost always have a happy customer — and “I like seeing the pet pictures that people send me.”

And speaking of pets, Lori’s dog Waffles once inspired another creative side project: a children’s book, illustrated by Lori. She printed only a couple of copies for herself and close family members, including her then-young niece and nephew. “It was a knick-knacky, rhyme-y thing, but I enjoyed making it.” Enjoying the maker process seems to be a common theme in Lori’s life, both at work and at play.

We Want to Hear from You!

We want to shine a light on the folks who keep the lights on, the faces behind the public power that drives our communities. We’ll be sharing a few stories about our team here at ElectriCities, from what inspires us to some of our favorite hobbies.

But this isn’t just about us. We want to hear from you! Do you have an employee who goes above and beyond? What about a team member or leader with an impressive extracurricular accomplishment? Let us know by sending your stories and ideas here.

Support Your Community

We may still be keeping our social distance, but North Carolinians are showing up for each other in other ways. Small businesses are the heartbeat of the economy and the livelihood of our communities. Here’s how you can help them succeed while still heeding public health safety measures.


Online shopping. Go ahead, have some retail therapy! Most small businesses have shoppable websites. If not, try placing orders by phone, or buy a gift card to use in a few months.

Plan ahead. If you typically order products with local retailers later in the year — at the holidays, for example — see if you can place your orders now to give them a revenue boost.

Give back. Consider donating to nonprofits and local foundations helping those in need. What’s more, think of your favorite local spots: theaters, museums, and more. These institutions could use your donations, too.

Takeout time. Many local restaurants are offering your favorite dishes for takeout or delivery. Ordering out isn’t just a treat for you, it’s crucial for their bottom line.