Actions speak louder than words
by Christie Harris, community relations coordinator for OMYA Industries, Inc. in Proctor, VT

Vermont Business Magazine

Every corporation is a citizen, touching many communities -- employees, partners, customers, environmental organizations, neighbors, schools. Good corporate citizenship goes beyond business basics; it has become an essential tool in strategic planning and, quite frankly, it is the right thing to do.

Becoming a good corporate citizen is simply demonstrating a commitment to community by supporting a wide range of initiatives, including education and workforce development, employee volunteerism efforts, youth endeavors, arts and culture, emergency management organizations, and humanitarian service entities like the United Way and Red Cross.

Community relations also means taking a hard look at social responsibility. Said another way, it means building relationships among diverse cross-sector interests; interests that may not appear to have anything in common, and may never see eye-to-eye on most issues. However, an open positive discourse will eventually reveal a common ground, for assuredly there is one thing we all have in common; we are humans who by nature possess the desire to be heard.

In its most basic form, community relations is little more than Communications 101. It is understanding who the audience is, what they might need, and developing a message or program that speaks to the needs of the community. Whether it is face-to-face or via electronic means, communications is an exchange of intellectual capital -- that is ideas, suggestions, comments, and concerns. The difficult part for most people is actually hearing the key points, not merely listening to the words with a prescribed opinion. It is about seeking first to understand, and more importantly it is about civility.

Since corporations are essentially economic and social driving forces in communities, it is important to recognize their contributions. Too few media outlets value the good news that is bestowed upon communities in the form of volunteerism and corporate philanthropic efforts. Often, the press is quick to find newsworthiness in asperions cast by members of communities without investigating facts or gaining a deep understanding of the entire story. Unfortunately, corporate citizens are nearly always recognized for mistakes they make and hardly at all for the good they provide to a variety of recipients.

To bring balance to the public dialogue, there are people and organizations willing to recognize the community relations efforts of corporations.

The Deane C. Davis Outstanding Vermont Business Award is such an example. Sponsored by the Vermont Business Magazine in collaboration with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, this is a classic example of good news, corporate responsibility that should not go unnoticed.

In their own words, "The economic well-being of Vermont rests squarely on the success of its businesses, large and small, who provide jobs, products, and services to consumers in Vermont, across the United States and around the world."

No one has said it better than that.

Christie Harris is the community relations coordinator for OMYA Industries, Inc. in Proctor, VT.