The MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) acknowledges and honors newly appointed leaders in our community, including Frank Reynolds, President and CEO of UIL Holdings. UIL Holdings is the subsidiary of Orange, CT-based Avangrid Inc. that owns Connecticut Natural Gas (CNG), Southern Connecticut Gas (SCG), and United Illuminating (UI).
MHA Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Frank about how the organization contributes to our region and its plans for the future.
NAN PRICE: How does your organization make an economic impact here in the Hartford Region?
FRANK REYNOLDS: CNG and its sister companies, SCG and UI, have each been around for more than 100 years in Connecticut delivering energy to many companies, homes, and businesses within the region.
UIL Holdings invests hundreds of millions of dollars across Connecticut, a portion of in the Hartford Region, to support the safety, efficiency, and resiliency of our system, and to enable us to provide energy to customers in the area.
We employ a workforce of nearly 1,900 in Connecticut, including more than 350 employees within the Hartford Region. We also bring a lot of contractors into the region who stay at hotels, buy food from restaurants, and buy gas. So, there’s a ripple effect that has an impact on the region.
From an economic development perspective, a lot of customers and businesses in the area choose to go with natural gas. It’s clean-burning, resilient, efficient, and extremely affordable.
And, our employees like to give back to the region. We do a lot of philanthropic activities in the area. Through the nature of our work we invest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); the arts; and the environment.
NAN: You mentioned your workforce. Does it help to be in an area where you have access to a good talent pipeline?
FRANK: Absolutely. As I said, we’ve been around more than 100 years, and I think that’s because we have such a great workforce we can rely on to take care of our business on a daily basis. They have all the skills to deal with our customers effectively.
And then we have folks working in the field who are highly skilled with an astute focus on safety to ensure we’re delivering reliable service to our customers. Having a workforce that’s well educated, well-trained, and very focused on the task at hand is absolutely why we continue to be a viable part of the community.
NAN: What are the benefits of being a Strategic Partner with the MHA?
FRANK: I’m just getting back to the region. Although I grew up in the Hartford area, I’ve been in Western New York for the past 15 years. Becoming more familiar with the local business community—our clients—is a top-of-mind item for me. As we continue to evolve our business in terms of providing a reliable resource to the region, understanding their needs is really important.
Being a part of the MHA gives me the opportunity to speak with those key decision makers who can influence the way we shape our business going forward. I think that’s an absolute benefit of being a part of the MHA.
NAN: How has UIL Holdings been impacted by COVID-19?
FRANK: We’ve done a tremendous amount that we’re extremely proud of. Early on, masks were hard to find, so Avangrid donated more than 30,000 masks to first responders and medical facilities that were in desperate need of masks at the time.
Beyond that, we made several million dollars of financial contributions to food security and other agencies. Our employees live here and work here and they like to give back here. So, they volunteered to the extent they could safely to help distribute supplies at some of these facilities.
Additionally, for our customers, we suspended late payment fees. We started to extend many financial arrangements to help customers having financial difficulties. We allowed them to set the terms of their repayment programs. And we enabled them to take advantage of several programs to help them through financial difficulties.
NAN: As someone in a leadership position, any lessons learned or big takeaways for you personally?
FRANK: The spirit of our employees has been first and foremost. At the end of the day, we deliver a critical product that enables a lot of businesses to thrive and flourish. Our frontline employees continued to come to work and make sure we could deliver that product safely. We followed all the COVID-19 protocols, so our workforce continued to be extremely protected throughout the pandemic.
Like many other organizations, we also learned how quickly we could pivot. A lot of our workforce pivoted to working from home. From day one, our frontline workers and supervisors continued to report to the workplace, but we were able to pivot folks in our Customer Care center and some back-office functions to a work from home model very quickly by deploying technology. They’ve continued to provide exceptional service throughout the pandemic.
That was certainly a learning and a takeaway from us, realizing that we don’t always have to have everyone in the office to work effectively and productively. Of course, we’d like people to be in the office for collaboration and innovation and all that wonderful stuff, but we recognized that we could still accomplish some of that even while working from home.
As we go into the future, we’ll be looking at the best way to safely reintroduce employees into the workplace, using what we’ve learned to maximize productivity and support a healthy work-life balance. We expect that implementing these lessons learned will have a positive impact on our business.
NAN: What else do you foresee in the future?
FRANK: As a business, we’re committed to helping the state meet its climate objectives. We have some lofty goals. Avangrid wants to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Natural gas has played a critical role in helping our state reduce carbon emissions over the past two or three decades. As we go into the future, we continue to think we’re going to be a part of helping meet that goal. Delivering clean molecules is what we’re focused on going forward well into the future.
We’re also focused on the customer journey and meeting the customers where they are. We’ll be digitalizing interactions a lot more than they are today so we can provide services our customers want from us.
Also, having the local workforce right out of Hartford and the surrounding region, with people who live, work, and play here, is what our future holds. That’s what we’re looking forward to.
Photo: UIL President Frank Reynolds (far right) volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity project.