1. Overview

The planning committee must look together at the data that describes the characteristics of the community – demographics, economy, workforce, and other factors – to inform a plan for the coal plant’s redevelopment. Data can reveal surprising things that people don’t commonly realize. 

Take Shippingport, Pennsylvania, for example. A quick look at the Census mapping tool for the borough where the Bruce Mansfield Plant is located reveals that almost two thirds of the workforce were employed by the utility in 2021, pay was good, the workforce is older, and the share of people in the workforce are mostly male. 

The committee may want to consider the types of work that could replace power plant jobs; where others in the community: women and young people are working and what kinds of jobs they may be prepared for; and what training facilities are available to help people change careers.

The pain of coal plant closure will be most acute where utility plant workers live close to the plant and there are fewer jobs in the commuting area.  Addressing the needs of these communities and considering the workforce skills of the displaced workers will be an important part of community fact-finding and planning. This census mapping tool is an easy way to get a quick snapshot of the economic characteristics of your community.

U.S.Census Bureau - OnTheMap

2. Community Profile: Basic Demographic Data

Census data can provide detailed information on the social, economic and housing characteristics of communities such as:

  • Basic features – age, gender, race/ethnicity
  • Social features – households/families, education, veteran status
  • Economic features – income, poverty, employment, commuting
  • Housing features – owner/renter status, type,

This list just scratches the surface in terms of the socioeconomic information that is available. Experts may be hired to help pull this information together. Representatives from participating communities that make up/contribute to the local economy may pool data and develop individual and regional assessments.

Demographic data by state:

Assessment of community needs

Among communities where coal-fired power plants have or are scheduled to retire, some will experience greater hardship than others due to a variety of factors: isolation from larger urban markets, lack of alternative employment opportunities, high rates of poverty, a large number of residents with language barriers and more. Headwaters Economics identified a concentration of such communities in the ReImagine footprint.

Community Assessment

Types of information that can be helpful in a community assessment include:

  • Type of jobs needed and desired (which may be obtained by analysis of census data and by survey)
  • Types of jobs available (Census data and survey)
  • Identification of educational institutions that can offer training and retraining (Survey of existing institutions)
  • Workforce development agencies that can connect people with services (If the plant is undergoing closure) (This can be obtained through interviews)

Economic and Environmental justice

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice initiative provides a mapping tool that gives additional information on income, poverty, health, disabilities, race and other elements that shape a community.  It can be found at https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/

3. Workforce Assessment

Analysis of the workforce that served the coal plant – and the existing workforce, if the plant was closed long ago – is important to community planning.  The data allows participants to understand the connection between the local economy and the skills of the residents. It provides detail on how the types of jobs available affect not just workers and families but the community as a whole.  This analysis can help the community identify the type of new uses they would like to see at the coal plant site: uses that create good jobs with living wages that  provide stability to families and the community.

Common Skills of Coal Plant Workers

For the communities facing a recent or pending coal plant closure, understanding the existing skills of the workforce is important. Ohio University’s Voinovich school provides an excellent overview of the common workforce skills of people working in a coal fired power plant. If employment in the area is as concentrated in the utility plant as it is in Shipping port, the planning committee will need to consider what sectors can re-employ people with these skills at a family-supporting wage level.

The coal utility industry involves many different occupations. Some skills such as those held by bookkeepers and machinists are common across the sector both in and outside the coal plant context. Other work is more specialized, andretraining can help these people prepare for and transition to a new career.

The Region From Which People Commute

“Labor shed” is a term used to identify the region from which people commuted for the old jobs or would commute for new jobs.  The concept of a labor shed can be compared to a “watershed,” which is the area from which streams empty into a primary river or lake. It is a term used by the census and increasingly as a basis for workforce analysis. A labor shed analysis examines the types of jobs held within the commuting area and determines the predominant skills of the workforce. The analysis considers the characteristics of the workforce like age, gender, race, wages, location of residence, and educational levels.

This website describes what a labor shed is and gives examples of labor shed analysis:

Iowa Workforce Development - A SURVEY OF IOWA’S LABOR FORCE

Experts Who Can Help Compile the Analysis

Government agencies connected to the community planning process may have much of this information. Local colleges and universities may have professors willing to help compile such information. There are non-profits that may help, and consultants who can be hired.

Educational Institutions are an Important Part of the Workforce Analysis

Schools from high schools to joint vocational schools,career technical centers, apprenticeship training centers, community colleges, and universities are located throughout Central Appalachia. Any or all of these educational institutions may offer certifications that allow workers to switch careers, degrees that may move them into entirely different fields, and enrollment in apprenticeship programs that pay a living wage as workers train. Part of the planning process would involve identifying gaps in programs that can help people switch careers and serve new users of the coal plant site.

4. Economic Assessment

An economic profile of the community includes an inventory of employers andfinancial institutions in the area. States provide a variety of economic information arranged/sorted by county.  The Ohio profile includes the following information:

Not all state profiles contain all of this information. Consultants can be hired to develop profiles of the economy, and sometimes universities can provide such expertise. The local governments participating in the planning process may have their own information from which a regional assessment could be developed as well.

Websites for state economic profiles:


A community planning process should develop an understanding of the jurisdictions, institutions and experts serving the region. As many of these groups as possible should be involved in the community planning process, or at least kept informed as fact-finding proceeds.

Governmental Entities and Agencies

A community planning process will include not just one jurisdiction, but many overlapping and adjacent jurisdictions across the labor shed – the area from which workers commute to the site. Elected leaders, economic development and public works staff, particularly program directors, should be involved in the planning process. In more urban areas, the metropolitan or micropolitan planning entity might be the best agency to lead the planning process, since by nature they serve across jurisdictions in a region. Entities identified here should at least be informed about the community planning analysis and visioning. Such jurisdictions and officials would include (but not limited to):

  • Elected officials at the federal, state and local levels
  • Top managers in municipal, county, township 
  • Directors of the Water district/ Sewer district
  • Court Officials
  • Public safety – fire, police
  • Public health departments
  • Libraries
  •  Metropolitan or micropolitan planning organization
  • Transportation districts and modalities (freight rail, road, maritime)
  • Correctional institutions
  • Parks and recreation
  • Military installations
  • School districts, career tech or joint vocational training schools, colleges, universities, apprenticeship programs

Labor Organizations


Institutions and Organizations

An inventory of important institutions and organizations who should be involved in the planning process might include (but is not limited to):

  • Chamber of commerce
  • Labor unions
  • Neighborhood and community organizations
  • Local NAACP
  • Hospitals and health care entities
  • Parishes and congregations
  • Hospitality and tourism
  • Museums and cultural centers
  • Social service agencies and not-for-profits
  • Civic organizations and clubs
  • Trade and professional associations
  • Utilities


The community planning process almost always involves hiring experts, but the process needs local experts in the group to analyze the findings and information of consultants and to add to the deliberations of how the findings might affect redevelopment. Experts might include (but are not limited to:)

  • Attorneys
  • Industrial realtors
  • Experts from the insurance industry
  • Environmental consultants
  • Economic development professionals
  • Title experts
  • Surveyors
  • Developers
  • Bankers

Remember to start with you local development district: information on contacts, programs, funding and strategies are her: LINK TO CH 6


Financing and Technical Assistance (Coming Soon)