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By Margaret Henderson

On July 22nd, the Philanthropy Journal reported the Steelcase furniture manufacturing plant is slated to close in Hendersonville this fall.

Not surprisingly, Henry Johnson, mayor of the Town of Laurel Park and director of the United Way of Henderson County, is thinking strategically about the impact of the closing both on the United Way campaign and the community.

Plant closings and gradual layoff’s have a trickle-down economic impact that affects everything in communities from the quantity of school supplies that families purchase to the county’s sales tax revenue and contributions to community organizations.

At the same time, unemployed residents place greater demand on the public-service sector that includes governments, nonprofits and philanthropies.

More people need food stamps through county departments of social services, programs at the health department, retraining through the community college, and emergency assistance through nonprofits.

Henderson County, in one respect at least, is well-positioned for managing the community problem-solving that will need to happen to handle this plant closing.

One asset that Henderson County has that many places lack is the Alliance for Human Services.

In the Alliance, the staff of the local community foundation, the county and United Way meet to share information with and about community-based organizations.

The three entities still make funding decisions independently. The difference is that each knows what the others plan to do.

In this way, they can think strategically about the cumulative impact of their funding, as well as the effects of the individual projects that each supports.

Also, the working relationships already built among the staff of these three local funders could be a strong asset in planning community response to this economic blow.

At least the staff members of these public organizations all know each other.

Not every community can make that claim, no matter the size of the population.

I hope the elected officials in Henderson County and in Hendersonville recognize the potential of this connection.

Here at The Public Intersection Project, we’ve been following the progress of the Human Service Alliance with great interest.

It is a model that other communities might do well to consider.


Margaret Henderson is associate director of the Public Intersection Project at the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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