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Do You Have Control over NIMBY?

Picture this: economic difficulties haven’t slowed your business down and you decide to pursue a plant expansion. You construct your business plan, collect the proper paperwork and get ready for the approval process. All of a sudden the zoning commission holds off on granting your permit.

Why? Residents of the local community have created an opposition group to fight your project. They say your plant expansion would be too close to their homes. They say it would create too much noise, dust, traffic and obstruct their views. They say they have financial and moral objections to your venture. This is when you realize that opposition is indeed a roadblock that may halt or even destroy your project. So what do you do now?

The problem that you are faced with is not uncommon. It is called the ‘Not In My Backyard Syndrome (NIMBY). It consists of strong opposition by one person or a group of people to a new project or development in their community. NIMBYs, as they are commonly referred as, are very likely to organize quickly to communicate their opposition to a local project in an effort to curb development.

The origins of NIMBY goups are somewhat vague. Some scholars believe the concept originated as early as the 1950s. However, the practice of communal opposition to development blossomed in the 1980s. During that time, community concerns were reasonable and justified in most cases.

For instance, with the technology available during that period, building a landfill in a neighborhood would mean noise, odor, air pollution and hazardous water and soil. While those days are gone, the sentiment of opposition remains, as does the stigma of any development near one’s home. With the use of modern technology and strict governmental regulations, the inconvenience caused by any sort of development is usually reduced to the minimum.

The NIMBYs, however, always find a reason to oppose development. It seems that very often they are simply “in it to win it.” They oppose just for the sake of making a statement. The “Backyard” has grown so vastly that nowadays that the NIMBY syndrome  affects industries all over the world. From New York to Tokyo, real estate development, alternative energy companies, wind power, energy transmission, nuclear and, yes, quarry operations are looking for ways to win the NIMBY battle. If you think this syndrome will not affect you, think again.

The best advice is to become a valued community member before you ever reach that point of pursuing an expansion. This often prevents resistance before it can occur. But if your firm finds itself involved in a NIMBY fight, take the steps necessary to ensure the proper message is getting out to the public.

Hire a firm that specializes in grass roots level tactics. The truth is that most PR firms aren’t trained in grass roots capabilities to counter the NIMBYism. It is necessary to look for local support and build allies in order to form a supporter coalition. Specialized professionals from a grass roots firm will ensure that the silent majority is heard and help win over the community. Direct mailers, e-mail reminders, letter writing, public hearing attendance, petition drives, phone banking and newspaper ads reminding potential supporters of the advantages that a new development will bring to their town can all be done more effectively if you take on the services of a specialized firm.

When it comes down to it, you have a decision to make. You could become the company that ignores the NIMBY fight, doesn’t possess the necessary experience to strategically approach the battle, and doesn’t employ services of a grass roots firm to tackle this issue. Or you could become the company that hires specialized professionals to develop a strategy for you, engage in conversation with the community and encourage the proponents of the project to voice their support. You’d be surprised how quickly experienced professionals and a tailored strategy can overcome NIMBY resistance. Before you know it, your permit is granted and your plant expansion is on the fast track to success. E

This article was contributed by Public Strategy Group Inc., a public affairs firm that specializes in grassroots campaigns for development projects that are experiencing community opposition or extensive hurdles.