Bring the Community Together

Bringing the community together is the best way to create a response to an economic downturn—and those whose lives are impacted the most or who have been sidelined or overlooked in the past should be at the center of the decision-making process about what comes next. When bringing the community together, ask people to share the solutions they see to the impacts that they are experiencing.

Identify Impacted Stakeholders

What people and places will be most affected by a plant or mine closure, either directly or indirectly? This list is probably longer than you think, and is driven by unanticipated ripples that occur over the months and years that follow a plant or mine closure. People feel those reverberations in the form of direct and indirect/secondary impacts. And those impacts may be anticipated, or take community members by surprise. Ask people to share stories and express their experiences in their own words to understand impacts in your community.

What are direct impacts?

Direct impacts could include:

  • loss of property and tax revenue
  • job loss at the plant and/or mines
  • change in infrastructure needs and use
  • legacy cleanup and remediation costs of coal-related operations
  • worker loss of identity/sense of self

What are indirect/secondary impacts?

These might include:

  • gaps in the industrial and commercial supply chain of products and services
  • loss of housing value
  • higher residential and commercial vacancy rates
  • declining revenue for local businesses that provide essential goods or services
  • idle/oversized infrastructure
  • loss of population and personal resources of time or talent
  • reduced local government bond ratings (which makes it more difficult to fund capital improvements)
  • increased municipal insurance rates (these may rise as a local government’s ability to provide services decreases)
  • family instability due to loss of income and health insurance

Direct and indirect impacts may affect specific portions of your community’s populations more than others. For example, workers who lose jobs as miners or plant operators may feel the brunt of transition more acutely than area business owners, at least in the short run. Likewise, some areas of your community may also feel the effects of a plant or mine closure more acutely—such as neighborhoods with a high concentration of unemployed workers, or school districts that may suffer declining enrollment if families move away.

Not all impacts of a closure are negative. Begin to think about the new opportunities that this transition may create and who in your community can help identify what is possible. Looking at your list of existing assets can help identify new opportunities and can inform your plan for the long-term.

Photo courtesy of Candace Hamana

Make a list of all the groups and organizations within your community that will be affected—either directly or indirectly—by a mine or plant closure. Then, reach out to representatives from each of those groups and organizations to take part in your community’s transition planning process.

In addition to those directly or indirectly affected, there will be others in your community who can add value to your transition planning. People with expert knowledge, connections, or even those known for visionary thinking or creativity can be key members of your planning team. Ask yourself:

  • Who has influence in the community and how can this influence be used positively?
  • What groups will lend a perspective that we might otherwise overlook? (e.g. labor unions or environmental groups)
  • Who can help the community find funding for fostering transition outcomes?

Design an Inclusive Engagement Process

Transition planning is messy work. Members of your community may have widely different ideas about what they want to see and what priorities should be for the future.  (See Engage Diverse Stakeholder Perspectives) How do you keep the process moving forward? Here are six ground rules for keeping the engagement productive.

  1. Honor the past: Provide opportunities to acknowledge the generations of workers who have been employed by a plant or coal mine that is being closed and the importance that the plant has played in the community.
  2. Use respected, neutral facilitators to create a safe space for discussions: Find people and groups who can remain neutral and are respected in the community and who can help conversations be positive and forward-thinking. Identify the economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and other organizations that are trusted proxies for economic development and social health, and invite them into the conversation.
  3. Make discussions accessible: Hold facilitated discussions at various times of day to accommodate participants’ schedules, and bring the listening process to locations people can easily reach. Some successful communities have created regular times and places for community members to simply gather informally over coffee and discuss what is on their minds.
  4. Acknowledge dissent, but avoid blame and denial: Dissent is common, but a skilled facilitator or leader can manage it constructively to inform, rather than wreck, a productive conversation. Blame, denial, and lack of community cohesion regarding a positive way forward, on the other hand, can not only bog down productive discussions, but also undermine your ability to secure funding or assistance at the regional or state level.
  5. Stick to the facts: Community engagement is most effective when the discussion is grounded in fact. Present the facts and impacts as you know them, provide resources to address unanswered questions, and set the stage for constructive input from the community.
  6. Set clear goals: Productive discussions have a clear purpose. Use the initial facts you’ve gathered and the public opinions you’ve heard to draft a set of goals for your transition process. Then, ensure that your community stakeholders can agree on those goals, or encourage them to draft goals together. This may take longer than you think, but it ultimately creates a much smoother process and more community buy-in.