It's Drinking Water Week, which is a good time to share a profile of Vince Guenthner because he has helped shape legislation that benefits Louisville Water and other utilities throughout Kentucky.
He joined Louisville Water in 1991 as the Manager of Government Relations and served in that position until his retirement in 2013. He returned in 2016 as a Senior Utilities Consultant. We talked with Guenthner about his career and his role in securing $35 million for regional water system improvements during the recent session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
What originally brought you to Louisville Water — and what brought you back after you retired?
Prior to working at Louisville Water, I worked for Jefferson County Government and the Louisville Chamber of Commerce (currently GLI). I’ve always had an interest in politics and government. Working at the chamber was my first opportunity to lobby the legislature.
At the chamber, I worked with a team that that was successful on some major initiatives, including funding for major Louisville projects like the expansion of Louisville’s airport, education reform, creation of the Waterfront Development Corporation, and a constitutional amendment to allow Louisville’s mayor to run for successive terms.
I greatly enjoyed my work at the chamber, but then I learned of a new position at Louisville Water. In 1991, the company decided to hire a full-time in-house Government Relations Manager. Prior to 1991, Louisville Water relied on contract lobbyists to represent their interests in Frankfort. The idea of coming into an organization and shaping the Government Relations position from scratch was very appealing. The position focused on building and maintaining effective relationships with elected leaders at the city, county, and state level. Over the years my responsibilities expanded to include involvement with the company’s Strategic Planning Team, regionalization, and business development.
After retiring in 2013, I started my own consulting business that focused primarily on business development opportunities for utilities and contract lobbying. I enjoyed the challenges of my new role, but it was requiring me to travel a significant amount of time. I always kept close ties with my friends and colleagues at Louisville Water, and in 2016 I learned of the company’s increased focus on economic development. I was very excited about the opportunity to rejoin the team.
What are some of the things you do in your current role?
I’m the primary liaison with local and state elected officials. This involves keeping the Louisville Metro Council and regional elected officials updated on key programs and capital work activities in their districts as well as lobbying the General Assembly and building regional support for key Louisville Water initiatives.
Additionally, I work on the company’s economic development and regionalization efforts. Both are important strategic initiatives that will help grow the water company. Encouraging economic growth in our service territory creates opportunities for additional water sales. Likewise, expanding our regional footprint allows us to grow our wholesale water sales.
What do you like best about the job? What are some of the challenges?
I really enjoy being part of the leadership teams that are shaping Louisville Water’s future. The work we are doing today will pay dividends for years to come.
In terms of challenges: Over the years the political environment has become more polarized, making it more difficult to build consensus. Luckily, Louisville Water has been able to stay above the political fray, but working in that highly charged political environment can be very frustrating.
Have you had a "most memorable day" at Louisville Water?
Over the years, I’ve had many memorable moments. I will always remember my first day on the job: October 7, 1991. I was living in Crescent Hill, less than a mile from the Louisville Water plant, and while I was showering to prepare for the day, I felt a large drop in water pressure. This was not a good omen. When I arrived at work, I learned we had a large break on a 48-inch water main. The break resulted in a system-wide boil water advisory.
Another memorable moment was successfully defeating a piece of legislation proposed in Frankfort. It may seem odd that I mention defeating a measure as memorable, but this proposal would have placed Louisville Water under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Public Service Commission and would have mandated that we extend water mains to all unserved areas of the county. These measures would have cost millions of dollars and negatively impacted all our customers. Being able to defeat the bill was a major accomplishment.
Please talk a little about the recent legislative session and how it will benefit Louisville Water. What role did you play?
Of all my memorable moments, the most recent accomplishment will be hard to top. During the 2022 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, we were successful in getting $35 million allocated for regional water supply improvements.
With the announcement of the Ford Blue Oval Battery Plant in Hardin County we knew the region was poised for significant growth. The region was already experiencing growth from the booming bourbon industry and the announcement of Nucor Steel in Meade County. Working with a leadership team, we quickly developed a strategy to pull all our regional water partners, elected leaders, and economic development officials from Bullitt, Meade, Nelson, and Hardin Counties together.
Under the proposal, Louisville Water would fund the construction of a new transmission main into Bullitt County. This transmission main will be the hub to get additional water supply into the region. All our partners agreed to a plan that would fund projects for each of their counties.
With the partnership and consensus in place, we worked with MMLK, our contract lobbying firm, and proposed language to amend the state budget bill to allocate $35 million for transmission system improvements in all of the counties.
This was truly a transformational accomplishment. First, it was no small task to get all the regional partners on the same page. Second, to get the legislature to agree to this allocation was a huge accomplishment. This was also a complete team effort. It would not have been possible without the Louisville Water leadership team’s involvement, and more importantly, the complete support and involvement of each of our partners.
This initiative will position Louisville Water to be the supplier that will meet the growing water demands of the region for decades to come.