A family-owned meat packing plant located in a rural Pennsylvania town designed a new comprehensive environmental management system with a facility that would recycle wastewater and generate green energy from biogas. The innovation represented in these construction plans reflected the company’s commitment to quality meat, the community and the local environment.
However, some local residents were concerned about the impact of the plant on the environment and community. Their vocal opposition made it challenging for others to openly support the company and its plans, which created tension in the community and put the construction of the project at risk.
When the company reached out to Look East, we recognized the need for a comprehensive communication plan and community outreach. The company had historically maintained a low profile, so we started from the ground up to build a consistent and sustained outreach program to strengthen their relationship with the community.
A critical first step was to establish and engage a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) which is a structured process for building relationships, sharing information and resolving concerns that help align community expectations with company performance. Anytime there is a gap between expectations and performance, there is a greater opportunity for conflict. This is true between parents and children, employers and employees, and communities and businesses that operate in the community.
Twelve individuals from the community were invited to take part in the CAP. They were carefully selected to represent diverse groups within the community and a variety of viewpoints regarding the project. Each month, the group met at a community center. They shared a meal, then Look East facilitated a discussion to share information and address concerns.
Through the process, relationships are fostered. Look East’s approach for establishing and facilitating a CAP is to create an environment where candid conversations are encouraged and everyone feels comfortable expressing their views. The structured process includes both relationship building and information sharing that closes the gap between performance and expectations and results in increased trust.
Meetings have included guest speakers, updates from company leaders, and tours of the plant and the construction site. Through the CAP process, the company has shared information about its business and transparently addressed questions of concern. CAP participants have also shared feedback they have heard in the community.
Individuals engaged in the advisory panel who have lived in the area all their lives report that they learned things they never knew about the business. These learnings have been shared with others in their circle of influence and they have brought questions to the meetings to get answers. All of this has helped change the perception of the business.
One participant stated: “The fact that they share is wonderful. Gossip runs rampant in our community, so these meetings have been so helpful.”
Another stated: “I really appreciate the meetings and their willingness to be open and transparent with us.”
Now in its third year, the panel continues to meet once a quarter to engage, have their questions answered and provide community feedback. The CAP process has helped create an environment where company growth and innovation are possible including the new facility. After a celebratory groundbreaking attended by elected officials and community leaders, the construction of the environmental facility is well underway.