Engaging the Community for Infrastructure and Climate Projects
July 1, 2024

Communities are the heart of local development, and community impact is often top of mind for local leaders as they identify and propose projects to address infrastructure needs and climate concerns. Under the Bipartisan infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the federal government is making unprecedented investments in climate and infrastructure to improve residents’ lives, invest in local economies, and advance sustainability and innovation. To make these projects successful, local leaders need to work in partnership with community stakeholders during project planning, implementation, and evaluation to ensure community needs are being met. 

Below are a few opportunities and strategies for local governments to maximize community engagement in BIL and IRA projects:

1. Use Workforce Development initiatives that elevate local job opportunities and job creation

There are many strategies for how cities can include workforce provisions in their BIL/IRA project applications; the key is to consider which strategies will work best for a specific project/community. Some strategies for workforce development that can support community engagement include: 

Below are a few opportunities and strategies for local governments to maximize community engagement in BIL and IRA projects:

Include workforce and labor plans in grant applications

Cities can use resources like the Department of Transportation’s checklist for developing strong plans; engaging with relevant stakeholders when developing these plans; and the Local Infrastructure Hub’s Workforce Development resource page.

One way to include labor plans in project applications are through Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). PLAs are legal agreements between employers and unions that establish the terms for a construction project, including wages and benefits. PLAs build worker input into the project from the start through pre-hire agreements between construction unions and construction contractors.

Forge partnerships with workforce stakeholders and community partners

Cities should work closely with workforce development experts, such as local workforce boards, unions, and community colleges as these entities have access to data, existing programs, and processes that can be leveraged or re-tooled for community-driven workforce development, such as apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and student outreach services.

Use BIL workforce dollars to fund supportive services for workers

Supportive services like childcare, transportation, and housing assistance reduce barriers to completion for those in job training and workforce development programs.These services can and should be tailored to the specific needs of the community, and work best when provided in response to community needs.

Target outreach and recruitment for job training opportunities to underserved populations

To attract the workers needed to meet construction workforce demand, workforce development programs will need to look beyond the traditional construction pipeline and make a dedicated effort to recruit underrepresented groups like women, people of color, and young workers just beginning their career. 

As part of this outreach, local governments should be having conversations with community members interested in skilled construction fields about barriers they experience and how to reduce them.

Local leaders can also use the Investing in High-Quality Infrastructure Jobs Toolkit to guide them through the different ways to secure and deploy BIL/IRA funding to advance workforce development and equitable access to good jobs. As local governments consider their community’s needs in the workforce ecosystem, they can use the toolkit to walk them through best practices in strategic partnerships, braiding of funding streams, alignment with federal guidance, and how to address specific workforce gaps.

2. Gather community feedback as part of project evaluation 

Successfully improving resident economic mobility outcomes depends on meaningful community engagement. This is why it is so important to learn from community members about which projects, issues, and/or initiatives are of highest priority to them to ensure their needs and wants are being met in each project. Getting community feedback during the evaluation phase of a project also allows for a more competitive application on many levels; it can provide: 

  • A better understanding of community needs to ensure projects are aligned with community priorities and designed to be fully accessible, and to highlight project support from the community, where applicable;
  • A more complete project narrative that allows for BIL/IRA project evaluators to understand the complexity and innovation of a project;
  • A medley of data points and trends that support why your project is necessary and should be funded, as well as baseline metrics that offer areas of improvement; and 
  • Insights for future partnerships with community organizations that can be highlighted in project applications.

3. Partner with community organizations and stakeholders

Working with community partners such as nonprofits, local youth organizations, school boards, and shelters can help streamline how a local government receives feedback and information about upcoming projects and project evaluation cycles. Additionally, community partners can help local governments better understand the challenges of many BIL/IRA priority issues such as the impact of redlining; barriers to employment; the need for climate-resilient infrastructure in disadvantaged communities; and how to provide accessible public transportation. Partnering with different community organizations and stakeholders to address priority BIL/IRA topics will not only aid in creating projects that are more responsive to community needs, which are in turn more likely to be successful, but will also ensure that community engagement and feedback is implemented throughout the project life cycle.

4. Consider Community Benefit Agreements 

Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are legal agreements between community organizations and developers where developers agree to fund/furnish specified benefits in exchange for community support of a project. Benefits can include contributions to economic trust funds, local hire provisions, workforce training, and wage agreements, among other benefits. 

Since CBAs are rooted in community partnership, they offer the opportunity to build community voice into a project from the start and empower community members to advocate for their needs.

5. Use data-based, community feedback to tell project success stories

While storytelling is a large part of accessing and implementing BIL/IRA project funds, success stories are often only highlighted when funding is received and when a project is completed. However, local governments can build positive momentum throughout the project lifecycle by highlighting success stories in jobs procurement and development as well as community improvement and development during projects, not just at initiation or completion. 

Local governments can join in telling their project successes by using the data and feedback they received from community outreach to highlight where and how a project is improving lives at all stages. Local leaders can use the Local Infrastructure Hub’s Messaging the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Toolkit to help them spread the message about infrastructure and climate project successes.

As highlighted in the strategies listed above, there are several ways local governments can engage community members in infrastructure and climate projects in order to increase the likelihood of projects that deliver better outcomes for residents. Authentic community engagement requires building and sustaining relationships and trust starting before the application phase and continuing all the way through the evaluation phase, creating feedback loops that ensure residents’ needs are integrated into the project.

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