Utilities are uniquely positioned for community engagement

By Zahra Dhanani, Research Analyst –

At a time when public sentiment on just about anything – a political issue, a company, a brand – seems  more likely than ever to turn on a dime, community engagement is arguably more important than ever. The utility industry, with its regulator-defined geographical boundaries, is uniquely positioned to do this kind of local engagement with its customers.

Beacon Park opened July 20 with a four-day festival funded by DTE Energy. The park is an exceptional example of community engagement in the utility industry. Source: Touloukian Touloukian Inc.

A major recent undertaking in community engagement is DTE Energy’s Beacon Park, a 1.5-acre public park neighboring the company’s headquarters. DTE Energy, through a donation to the Downtown Detroit Partnership, funded the park’s transformation from a vacant, gravel-filled lot into a green space and event venue. The park opened to much media fanfare on July 20.

Intended to be a future hub of Detroit’s city life, Beacon Park is more than a public space. The park’s sponsors predict it will attract more than a million visitors to Detroit’s west downtown area, and expect the park’s various activity options will bring economic development to a previously stagnant sector of the city, including new jobs.

To celebrate Beacon Park’s grand opening, DTE Energy hosted a free four-day festival featuring local musical acts, artists, games, dancers, yoga classes and even a set of giant, illuminating seesaws. The festival even featured a Beer Garden on opening day, served by Griffin Claw, a Michigan-based brewing company. The tone for the entire weekend was heavily submerged in staying as true to local brands and companies as possible. In total, close to 50 different activities were hosted by DTE Energy over the course of all four days.

While the grand opening festival was two months ago, Beacon Park is still getting media buzz in Detroit. Griffin Claw, the main vendor at the festival’s Beer Garden, is talking about opening a new restaurant in the park. Food trucks have moved into the park to meet the lunchtime demands of young professionals in the neighborhood, many of whom work for DTE itself. The neighborhood buzz is also bringing in potential new revitalization and renovation projects as part of a three-year development plan for the west downtown Detroit area.

Beacon Park, of course, isn’t the only community engagement project going on it the utility industry.

Baltimore Gas and Electric recently partnered with Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks to create a state-of-the-art ropes course with a three-year $100,000 investment from BGE. The course is supposed to encourage middle and high school students to test themselves and develop the skills they need to overcome personal challenges. BGE’s contribution also helps to support the Police Youth Challenge, a program that aims to change negative perceptions between youth and the Baltimore Police Department.

BGE’s new innovative contribution hits all the cornerstones of community engagement from local economic development to public safety and serious societal and civil issues.

Projects like these show that utilities can continue to play an important part in their communities.

If you are interested in participating in ongoing Chartwell research, especially our Customer Experience Benchmark Survey, please contact me at zdhanani@chartwellinc.com.

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