Build better relationships
with your neighbors and community leaders
Logically, most operators understand the importance of having a good community relations. In the day-to-day environment of running a business, however, not all are willing to invest time into nurturing those relationships. Big mistake.
“A strong relationship with our neighbors and community leaders is such an integral component to the success of our business,” says Patty Christensen, land and environment manager for Aggregate Industries – North Central Region. Growing up, her father worked for an aggregates business that was later acquired by Aggregate Industries, and there was a very different atmosphere than the strong relationship she enjoys with neighbors today. “Things were always contentious between the residents and the mining company,” she recalls. But with some fairly simple initiatives to improve communication between operators and neighbors, she found a much better dynamic when she joined Aggregate Industries in 2000. “What a difference,” she says. “I was amazed.”
Some community relations programs can be quite elaborate, but small, simple outreach efforts can go a long way. When Tom Dupuis noticed the crowds that gathered near the Dolese Bros. Co.’s headquarters in Oklahoma City for a Pearl Harbor Day memorial, he suggested the company sponsor a hospitality tent with warm beverages and sweets. That simple task led to a series of additional community relation initiatives with local veterans, who greatly appreciate the support. “It’s been a good marriage for us,” Dupuis says.
While Wendling Quarries has a splashy community event with the 6k race that runs through its property, it continues smaller scale initiatives such as school tours at its site. “We have folks whose yards back up to the quarry. For us to maintain a relationship, not only with our close neighbors, but the town itself, is very important to us,” says John L. Kulper, safety and environmental director for Wendling Quarries, Inc. “We just like the community involvement. It’s a chance for us to work with a close-knit, organized, and truly nice community.”
Establishing good relationships with the surrounding community is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.
“We had a variance hearing in the city of Minneapolis in September 2015,” Christensen says. “One of the board members stated, ‘I just want the board to know that this company has been a great corporate citizen in our community. They have been involved with the National Park Service for years. They are a great example of how a business and the community can work together.’
“The value of hearing that statement from a regulatory official says it all for us,” she adds. “It just brings home to us how important our community relations efforts are with these municipalities.”
Community Relations 101
John L. Kulper is the safety and environmental director for Wendling Quarries, Inc. He has served in that role for 12 years and oversees environmental training and compliance, as well as safety training and compliance. He previously served as an environmental consultant.
Tom Dupuis the manager of the environmental and engineering departments at Dolese Bros. Co. Prior to joining the company in 1988, he spent 11 years in the U.S. Air Force. Dupuis is a passionate advocate for all issues regarding the U.S. military.
Patty Christensen is the land and environment manager for Aggregate Industries – North Central Region. She joined the company in 2000 and began in the accounting department before moving into the land and environment department. She has an associate’s degree in paralegal.
Voices of Experience
Wendling Quarries, Inc.’s Bowser Quarry, in Springville, Iowa, is gearing up for the 4th Annual Springville Extreme Quarry Run. “A lot of the towns in our area have their fun days where it’s a community get-together,” says John L. Kulper, safety and environmental director for Wendling Quarries. “Typically, it’s just a few carnival rides and lots of fatty food.”
Four years ago, that changed when a group of event organizers who are avid runners approached Wendling Quarries Inc. about allowing a race to pass through the operation. The quarry has north and south locations that are split by Highway 151 — with a tunnel running between the two. “The tunnel at the Bowser Quarry draws a lot of interest,” he says.
Kulper and Marc Whitman, quarry development manager, met with the committee to discuss its involvement and determine if it was a good fit. Once their concerns were addressed, they were happy to participate in the event.
Each year, the race has drawn between 180 and 280 participants and has raised thousands of dollars for local charities such as the Springville Community Schools Backpack Program, which funds meals for kids in need, and the City of Springville’s Community Trails Project, which is building a walking and bike trail.
Its involvement does require some work at the quarry. “The runners like to see the equipment, so we set up the trail so they can get a good look at the quarry and its different features,” Kulper explains. Another important preparation is to ensure that the roads are well groomed so there are no large rocks or divots in the roadway that could be hazards to the runners. Community volunteers are spread throughout the course on race day to ensure runners participate in a safe manner, while enjoying the scenery in the unique venue.
“It’s been a really good collaboration between us,” Kulper says.
Tom Dupuis, manager of the environmental and engineering departments at Dolese Bros. Co., says his heart is with the military. “I am from a big military family,” he explains, noting numerous family members have served. “I was in a combat construction outfit overseas. When I started working for Dolese in August 1988, it didn’t take long to realize the company was a good fit for me.”
His community relation efforts reflect that bond. For example, the company sponsored a hospitality tent for those who attend a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony. The tribute is held near Dolese’s Oklahoma City headquarters where the anchor from the USS Oklahoma, a battleship sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, is on display.
There, he met Bob Lambert, founder and chairman of Oklahoma’s Military Spirit Medal. The medals are awarded to young people who have committed to military service after graduation. To receive the medal, the recipient must have completed high school, enlisted in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, submitted an application, written a 100-word essay entitled, “I choose to serve in the U.S. military because…,” and plan to attend the school’s senior awards ceremony where the medal is presented. The program has grown from two medals being awarded in 2010 to 122 medals in 2015.
Since funding is a challenge, Dupuis took the program to Dolese’s community relations committee, which contributed $1,000. While the program is currently involved with 30 high schools in the greater Oklahoma City area, the group would like to grow it across the state and, eventually, the nation.
“I like the whole concept of recognizing them from day one for having the ‘Spirit’ to commit to military service,” Dupuis says. “One of Mr. Dolese’s mottos was ‘Fly the flag. He was a true American, and there is nothing better than working for a company that has the same beliefs and values.”
When a group at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota spotted a group of people on a tugboat and barge, one of Aggregate Industries – North Central Region’s most popular community relation events was born.
According to Patty Christensen, land and environment manager for the region, the group’s inquiry sparked what is now an annual event. Close neighbors, as well as appointed and elected officials are invited. “It’s as popular now as when it commenced in 2000,” she says.
Preparations for the barge ride run like clockwork, despite having 200 to 225 guests. Several days prior to the event, the barge is prepped, and welders install anchors for the tents that are put on the barge. Tables, chairs, and portable restrooms are brought in to ensure a comfortable trip, while life jackets and a first aid kit are on hand in case of any emergency.
“It’s become a very finely-tuned event, and it could not happen without our operations staff,” Christensen says. “They put a lot of work into this event to get the barge ready and to ensure that the river travel will be smooth and memorable.”
A mix of volunteers from the office and operations serve as hosts for the ride and answer guests’ questions about construction materials. For a number of years, the ride was extended to participants of the Mississippi River Recreation Area Junior Ranger Program. National Park Rangers on board the ship would answer questions about the river corridor and explain the river’s significance to the community.
“This barge ride combines two of the key components of Aggregate Industries’ value system: commitment to community and sustainability,” Christensen explains. “Guests walk away from the barge with a better understanding of the importance of the aggregates industry and how the river plays into their day-to-day lives.”