Find Out the Facts

Transitions that succeed are the ones that are rooted in facts—not assumptions or rumors. When you know the facts, you can plan for the future with more certainty.

Gathering the facts helps you do two things with greater accuracy:

  • Define the problem
  • Identify existing assets

Define the Problem

How many jobs will actually be lost when your community’s mine or plant closes? What kind of impact will the closure have on your community’s tax base? How will a reduction in the tax base impact community government services, such as public safety, or issues like debt retirement? What impact will it have on housing? Schools? Healthcare? Your community’s “Main Street” businesses?

Take time to understand how local government, taxes, and the community function as a varied mix of moving parts. The more you understand the interconnected workings of your community, the more you can understand which details may be affected by the closure, and where ripple effects will occur.

key questions

The following questions can help you think more deeply about the potential impacts of a plant or mine closure in your community.

Where do tax dollars originate currently and how are they spent?

What percentage of your community’s tax revenue comes from the plant or mine? Some tax revenue serves as leverage or as a match for other sources not dependent on the tax base such as health department funds for vaccines, emergency services, or fees for regional waste authorities.

Are there state or federal matching funds at risk if your community can no longer provide its share?

Are state sources available to supplement needed matches or fees to other agencies when an economic shift in a community occurs? Know the timing of revenue sharing,  tax collections, and fiscal years. Learn how funding calendars can be synchronized or staggered to the best effect.

What’s the value of the nonfinancial support the community gets from the utility or mine in question?

Learn how much it would cost in user fees, for example, to field sports teams the company sponsors, to provide employees with temporary housing, or to underwrite arts or special events. These are all important, even if they sit at the lower end of the impact continuum.

How might the social and cultural fabric of the community change?

When people relocate, they take their talents and passions with them, and that can change how a community functions from a social or cultural standpoint. In smaller communities, such impacts can be more apparent than in larger communities. You may not be able to quantify these kinds of changes until later in the process, but it is important to identify community aspects that have thrived because of the talent and organizations that supports them.

What are the properties and structures the mine or utility will leave behind after closure?

How much land does the company own and/or control? Think about the future value of this land and how it can be used in the best interest of the community after closure. How might the community influence future development of this land?

What will a closure do to your community’s infrastructure?

Think about the function of roads, ports, rail lines, rail spurs, sewer lines, water lines, well heads, drainage, transmission lines, landfills, emergency services, and other pieces of infrastructure that are connected to a plant or mine that will be closed. Are there service agreements between the host community or other municipalities that will be affected? Map and quantify what these relationships are and what the likely financial and service impacts will be.

Entrepreneurs used undeveloped land and community resources to create the Bailey Mountain Bike Park in North Carolina, which created jobs and generated tax revenue from visitors. Photo Courtesy of Natural Capital Investment Fund.

Be honest about what you still need to know and don’t hesitate to ask leaders in your community, in the state, or at federal agencies how you might obtain the information or connect to expert resources.

Find other communities dealing with transition to learn what they’re working on now, what appears to be working so far, and what they would have done differently in retrospect. Identify who the key actors and influencers in those communities were, both positive and negative.

Identify Existing Assets

Even if the mine or power plant is the biggest game in town, it isn’t the only game in town. Take an inventory of your community’s assets. They may not be obvious at first, and some assets require a different understanding of value.

Community assets might include:

  • Developed land
    Public or private, including the site of the closing mine or power plant
  • Infrastructure
    Roads, rail lines, well heads, water and sewer lines, power lines, fiber optics, etc.
  • Undeveloped land
    Such as scenic areas that could attract outdoor recreation
  • Water
    Underground or aboveground, for industrial or recreational use
  • Entrepreneurs
    Who own or might start small or medium-sized businesses
  • Artists and craftspeople
    Those who create and inspire
  • Culture
    That which defines your community
  • Connections
    Resources and knowledge beyond your community that can inform or support your work
  • Other industries or sectors
    Those that may be able to absorb workers and contribute to economic resiliency

Never stop learning

Information gathering should be ongoing as you begin to shape your plan for transition. Depending on how your community vision develops, you’ll likely need to learn more detail about taxation, public finance, workforce retraining, or other issues identified during the process.