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The team at Reach Out, a community-based organization, staffed a Volvo LIGHTS information booth at the Alt Car Expo on October 16, 2019, in Riverside, California.
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Community Holds the Key

California Climate Investments is providing $45 million to improve air quality in Inland Southern California via a grant awarded to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Volvo Trucks, and 14 other organizations. The project, called Volvo LIGHTS, will demonstrate the many benefits of battery-powered electric freight trucks and equipment, and work toward preparing the region for the widespread introduction of this advanced zero-emission technology. From 2019 to 2021, the sixteen project partners will collaborate to pioneer a range of vehicle, charging, and workforce development innovations critical for the commercial success of battery electric trucks and equipment.

Reach Out was selected as a project partner to serve as the community relationship steward and local door opener. For 50 years, Reach Out has been working with community members and local leaders to enhance the health and quality of life in the Inland Region of Southern California. As community members ourselves, we understand how local freight movement impacts the region and what questions will naturally arise with the introduction of new technologies—from our neighbors, public representatives, and elected officials. Working with a community outreach partner like Reach Out on complex, multi-phase projects like Volvo LIGHTS is important to the success of the project for several reasons.

As community members ourselves, we understand how local freight movement impacts the region and what questions will naturally arise with the introduction of new technologies.

Effective Messaging. One of the first tasks we tackled was the development of a one-pager to succinctly communicate the goals, partners, and benefits of the project. While the goal of the project is to introduce the most advanced truck technology in the world, we wanted to ensure that our messaging to community members wasn’t overly technical. Instead, we focused on answering the question—How will electric trucks benefit our communities? With this frame of reference in mind, our bilingual, community-first messaging highlighted the project results that would directly benefit community members including reduced air pollution, climate protection, less traffic congestion, cutting-edge job training, and a better truck driver experience.

Identifying Key Stakeholders. Armed with effective project fact sheets, the team then developed a plan to ensure a smooth permitting process for the vehicle charging infrastructure. Reach Out developed a list of local organizations and community leaders we’ve worked with for years, including city and county planners, land use experts, fire departments, economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, and local city halls.

Building Relationships. Once the list of key stakeholders was complete, Reach Out leveraged its decades-long relationships to set up meetings with a select set of project partners involved in infrastructure development. Having Reach Out as a familiar face to introduce the project helped facilitate open dialog and candid conversations regarding permitting and timelines, and also gave the partners a chance to make valuable connections that will be important throughout the life of the project. From our experience, face-to-face opportunities to “extend a hand across the table” always trump an email or conference call, no matter how well-worded. For complex, multi-phase projects like Volvo LIGHTS, scheduling these stakeholder meetings as early in the project as possible is critical to keeping your project timeline on track.

For complex, multi-phase projects like Volvo LIGHTS, scheduling stakeholder meetings as early in the project as possible is critical to keeping your project timeline on track.

Amplifying the Message. In addition to building relationships with community leaders, Reach Out understands how essential it is to engage directly with community members. The Reach Out team has been busy participating in local events and fairs so that we can help community members understand the importance of this project. By speaking on workshop panels and staffing exhibitor booths, Reach Out has been able to gather questions from community members and share unique insight with the project team to inform future outreach and education plans.

Working with an involved community organization from the initial stages will help the project’s results effectively resonate with community members and ensure that the project partners are able to build lasting relationships throughout the life of the project. In each phase of the project, the community organization’s role will adapt and change accordingly, serving as a liaison and intermediary at each stage as the project naturally evolves.

As the Volvo LIGHTS project moves forward with vehicle implementation, Reach Out will begin focusing our outreach efforts on ensuring San Bernardino and Riverside Counties share a vision of how environmentally and economically powerful the LIGHTS project will prove to be for the region over time. 

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