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Behind the Scenes with Laura Sheets

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In 1990 I joined the company as a secretary. We were known then as Public Service Indiana and, frankly, I think they hired me because I knew shorthand. As a 24-year-old, I took the job because it paid $2 an hour more than the bank. A lot sure has changed since then.

Today I'm district manager for our company's north region, including cities such as Kokomo, Huntington, Rochester and Wabash. Sometimes I call myself a generalist with a Blackberry. Each day is different. You may start out in the morning working with a large customer and finish the day at a nonprofit board meeting. I love the job because you get to engage in things that can move the bar and bring real value.

One of my most challenging and yet most rewarding times as a district manager was not that long ago. In 2006 Kokomo's major employers were in bankruptcy. Our roots are in the auto industry, and it was facing a near collapse. Unemployment soared from 7.4 percent in June 2008 to 19.2 percent just a year later.

Then in January of 2009, Forbes magazine named us the third fastest dying city in the United States. I think that was a turning point for us. I led the United Way campaign in 2009. When I visited businesses, the thinking was, "Are we going to sit here and just believe what everybody else is saying, or are we going to do something about this for ourselves?"

Sometimes when you have nothing to lose, great things can happen. I watched the city transform itself. We had to change. We had to work together. Complacency turned into commitment, and we challenged the idea of what was possible.

One of the key developments was the creation of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance from the merger of several public and private organizations. That helped focus us and head us in the same direction. Meanwhile, our major employers fought their way back and reinvented themselves. The city, led by Mayor Greg Goodnight, changed how it approached services and made bold, tough choices that paid off. Our downtown also transformed itself into a destination where people wanted to visit and stay.

As a district manager, I got to be part of that renaissance. At Duke Energy, we want our communities to do well. That's why our managers' job descriptions go beyond electricity to leadership. We're expected to bring human energy to work on our community frontlines. A century ago our company started out as a business. Along the way we became a part of the community.

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