Opening Its Doors
Through a variety of community relations programs, Silvi Group strives to be an asset to the communities in which it operates.
By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
Nearly 15 years ago, Fairless Hills, Pa.-based Silvi Group Companies began its foray into community engagement by sponsoring a Little League team near its Eagles Lake Reserve sand and gravel operation. “We wanted our mine and the community to have a mutually beneficial relationship,” explains Larry Silvi who, with his brother John, co-owns the Silvi Group Companies. Since then, it has expanded its community relations efforts and its business — to the benefit of the communities in which it operates. Today, the company includes seven ready-mix plants (Silvi Concrete); four sand and gravel operations (Sahara Sand); a cement and aggregate import terminal (Riverside Construction Materials); and one hard rock quarry — with an additional greenfield site undergoing permitting (Gibraltar Rock).
Building the diverse business requires both an excellent reputation and strong ties to local communities, particularly with regard to Silvi’s mining operations in New Jersey, which is a home-rule state where local townships grant operating permits.
“In my opinion, a good community relations program has to be grounded in reality, innovative, and the commitment has to be long term,” says Uday Patankar, P.E., the company’s vice president of environmental and public affairs. “One-and-done overtures tend not to be successful.”
Rather than focusing on one-time events, Silvi Group has taken a systemic approach to working with its local communities. For example, one initiative that began in 1998 and continues today is the annual donation of approximately 400 turkeys to volunteer firefighters near each of its locations. Timed for distribution around the winter holidays, Patankar says the idea stemmed from the company’s relationship with local fire departments.
“MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) rules say that you have to have an infrastructure of local help in case of emergencies or accidents,” he says. “EMS is usually tied to the fire department’s mission, so as a matter of course, we deal with them and get to know the captains and fire fighters. We observed that most of these guys are volunteers, not paid participants, so we thought the turkeys were a nice way to say thanks for their help and for volunteering.”
Fire departments also benefit from proceeds raised at what may be Silvi’s most popular community event, its annual motor bike races. Twice a year, in the summer and fall, the company hosts the races at its Eagles Lake Reserve operation. With thousands in attendance, each race raises approximately $5,000, and the Eagleswood Volunteer Fire Department and the Eagleswood Township Recreation Fund receive the gate sales.
In addition to inviting the public onto its property for the bike races, Silvi also participates in a number of local events such as Eagleswood Township’s fall festival and Stafford Township’s community day. Patankar says that the company has equipment on display at these events, as well as staff on hand to talk to participants. “Kids love to climb up and down on loaders and concrete trucks and sound the horn,” he says. “As long as there is a driver there keeping track of the safety of the kids and the kids don’t fool around with the equipment, it works out well.”
To draw people into its equipment display, instant photos are taken of the kids on the equipment, printed on site, and given to the kids before they leave. “That creates a buzz at any event we’re participating in,” Patankar says. “It’s how we attract some young crowds.”
The community events not only provide positive interaction with area families, they also are often attended by local leaders. Elected officials often see these events as an opportunity to be visible among their constituents, and that can lead to informal conversations that help build relationships between the mine and community leaders.
As it entered the hard rock mining business with its 2009 acquisition of Gibraltar Rock, Silvi started to grow its relationships with its new neighbors through a series of interactions. The first began shortly after the acquisition, when a local scout leader approached the operation about allowing a small group of Webelo scouts to visit the site as part of their effort to earn their geology badge.
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