By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – After 50 years in business, Cookeville Electric Motor (CEM) will close at the end of 2022. On July 1, the family-owned business celebrated 50 years of service to the Cookeville area. CEM was purchased by Jim and Anita Dickinson in 1972 and is now owned by their son, Jimmy Dickinson.
“I grew up at CEM, I was 11 years old when mom and dad bought the business. Dad worked the shop and phones, and mom was the bookkeeper,” said Jimmy Dickinson. “I started helping out in the shop at age 13 and worked part time until my college graduation. I eventually replaced mom as the bookkeeper, and my sister Vicki worked as inside sales when she graduated high school. Unfortunately, we lost dad in 2002 and Vicki in 2006, but we continued on with them in our hearts and minds.”
The original business began with one employee and operated in only 1,800 square feet at 228 W. Spring St. Over the next few years, the business grew on their reputation of integrity and service to their customers. In 1980, CEM made its first building addition increasing to 4,800 square feet and five employees while still concentrating on electric motor sales and service.
In 1985, CEM moved into the electrical distribution business by adding the Allen Bradley distributorship and complimentary product lines. At that time the building was increased to 9,600 square feet, and the employee count grew to 10. By the mid 1990s, CEM had grown to over 12,000 square feet and to 21 employees.
CEM sold the electrical distribution segment of their business to Irby Electric in 2005. Irby Electric is located next door to CEM and shares a warehouse, so all distribution employees easily made the transition to Irby and continued to serve their customers. CEM retained the motor sales and service segment and continued to serve local industry and municipalities.
Jimmy Dickinson was honored in 2017, when the City of Cookeville renamed the section of road behind CEM to Dickinson Lane in honor of his dad’s years of service on the Planning Commission.
“Every day as I come and go from CEM, I drive by the street sign and feel honored,” Jimmy Dickinson said, adding, “I am very fortunate to still be working alongside the CEM employees who moved to Irby in 2005. We all still work as one big family.”
In 2022, the final two employees of CEM reached retirement age, and CEM has closed its motor rewind shop. CEM will continue to sell new motors through 2022, and it will continue to maintain repairs on a limited basis.
“The most fulfilling part of this journey has been watching the growth of all the employees and their families. I have watched the families of all the guys who I worked alongside in the shop grow for over 40 years. They are all proud grandfathers today,” Jimmy Dickinson reflected. “I have mixed emotions in closing CEM, but I think dad would be happy that we got everybody to retirement. He always wanted everybody to be treated as family and we attempted to do that daily.”