Economic Diversification Roadmap: The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and Nuclear Communities

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is a regional planning strategy that focuses on economic development, diversification, and resilience. Taking stock of the economic impact that a nuclear power plant has on not only its host community but also the wider region, is vital in preparing for the inevitable closure of the plant.

Who can use this whitepaper?

  • Regional planning staff (Economic Development Districts, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Councils of Government, and other Regional Development Organizations)
  • Municipal planners
  • Economic development managers

Synergies between the CEDS and nuclear host communities

Given the vast economic and social contributions nuclear power plants make to their host communities, it is a natural fit to discuss their role and impact in a region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS. The CEDS, often prepared by an Economic Development District (EDD) or other regional development organization, is a locally-based, regionally-driven economic development planning process and document that creates the space for a region to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and brings together a diverse set of partners to generate good jobs, diversify the economy, and spur economic growth. An effective CEDS allows a region to maximize its economic development potential, as well as engage with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (U.S. EDA) and other federal partners to access a variety of planning, infrastructure, and capacity-building grants.
In addition to EDDs, other entities that may prepare a CEDS include tribes, counties, and economic development organizations. Included in the suggestions below are examples gleaned from effective CEDS and valuable insights from Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission (WRC). WRC served as a key organization in guiding the region in preparation for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station’s closure in December 2014 and was part of a coalition of organizations that developed the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS). (Learn more about Vermont Yankee closure experience and lessons learned here).

Economic Development Districts (EDDs) and other regional organizations that prepare the CEDS are well-positioned to facilitate the conversation around plant closure and economic diversification.

As conveners in their regions, EDDs and other regional development organizations are able to facilitate discussions and meetings about nuclear power plant closure and the wider economic and social impacts that may follow. These can be highly sensitive and emotional topics, but as a trusted partner, regional organizations can use the CEDS planning process and other regional economic development initiatives to create the space to talk constructively about these issues. “We weren’t supporting or opposing the continued operations of Vermont Yankee,” says Chris Campany, “but we knew it would close eventually and therefore began looking into what closure scenarios were in the region’s best interest.”

As federally designated entities by U.S. EDA, EDDs can leverage ongoing partnerships with many federal agencies to help translate the vision identified in the CEDS into action. (Click here to view an interactive and searchable map of the national network of over 400 EDDs). EDD staff capacity and project expertise can be leveraged to prepare applications for communities to access funding and other resources and implement projects and initiatives identified through the CEDS planning process that mitigate closure issues. These funding sources include EDA’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance programs, which encompasses the Nuclear Closure Communities funding stream designed to support “regions that have been impacted, or can reasonably demonstrate that they will be impacted, by [nuclear power plant] closure(s).”

At a minimum, note that there is a nuclear plant in the region in the CEDS.

A surprising number of CEDS that cover regions home to nuclear power plants do not even mention there is a plant in the area at all. Regardless of the status of the plant – whether it is operating, undergoing decommissioning, or closed – it is a part of your region’s economic fabric and should be identified in the CEDS. Ideally, the CEDS will address some of the deeper economic and social issues stemming from plant activity, but if that is not feasible, make sure that the plant is at least mentioned as a power generator, jobs creator, and part of the region’s industrial mix. This can help establish a solid foundation to address these issues in more detail during a CEDS update or rewrite, or through other regional economic development initiatives. Finally, consider taking a closer look at the experiences of communities where plants have already closed to frame questions your CEDS could address, and what some likely impact scenarios could be for the community.

Leverage the CEDS process as an opportunity to proactively discuss economic diversification and the future of the power plant.

Too many places wait until it is too late to discuss important issues like economic diversification. When times are good and an economy or industry is booming, there seems to be little incentive to think about preparing for a possible (or eventual) economic downturn or closure. However, every community and region should always be thinking about diversifying its workforce and economic base. This is particularly important in places where there may be an industry or entity that has an outsized impact on the local or regional economy, including nuclear host communities. Over-reliance on one employer to provide jobs, a tax base, or other services puts a community in a very tenuous position.
There may be a reluctance in some places to discuss these issues out of a concern that doing so might somehow lead to early closure or influence the utility’s decision-making process about the future of a plant. However, evidence shows that economic considerations such as changes in the energy market, the high cost of deferred maintenance, and other plant-specific reasons are the primary reasons a plant may close early. In Campany’s words: “The plant isn’t going to close just because you are asking questions and talking about these issues as a community. Vermont Yankee closed because it wasn’t competitive and it cost too much to run the plant. It had everything to do with the economic climate.”

Discussing nuclear power plant issues in the required sections of the CEDS is an effective way to highlight their contributions to the regional economy and anticipate the economic impacts of closure.

Each required section in the CEDS provides the potential to highlight the economic impacts of nuclear power plants and eventual closure. The Summary Background should give a clear explanation of the region’s current economic status; the SWOT Analysis is a clear recognition of the region’s opportunities and challenges; the Strategic Direction/Action Plan sets a vision and approach for how to address the issues identified in the SWOT; the Evaluation Framework is a method for tracking progress; and Economic Resilience addresses strategies for how a region can best anticipate, withstand, and bounce back from shocks, disruptions, and stresses.

In April 2023, U.S. EDA updated the CEDS Content Guidelines to include three new recommended sections on climate resilience, workforce development, and equity. Addressing these themes in the CEDS provides the space to further explore regional issues related to either the continued operation or closure of a nuclear plant. The CEDS is as much a process as it is a document and public engagement and outreach efforts that include historically underrepresented people and places are important opportunities to plan strategically and inclusively as a region.

The following are examples and links to CEDS that have incorporated nuclear plant issues into various sections of the CEDS:

Use the CEDS process to gather information to highlight how the nuclear power plant is positioned within the wider regional economy.

Use the information-gathering process while preparing the CEDS to research and synthesize information about the plant, its workforce, and its economic impact to paint a clearer picture of its role in the wider regional economy. Chris Campany has the following suggestions for EDDs and other regional organizations: “Look at proceedings related to the plants to see what if any information can be gleaned from the plants themselves, including employment and income data. There may be other things included in Nuclear Regulatory Commission filings and state utility commission fillings that provide an economic characterization of the plant. There may be information about what the decommissioning scenario will be – SAFSTOR or DECON. That is incredibly useful information because it tells you how sharp the cliff will be when it comes to the number of employees and how that translates into income leaving the region.”

This resource is part of the Community Economic Diversification Roadmap, a new tool created by Smart Growth America and the Nuclear Communities TA team, to support communities in planning for the challenges and opportunities that stem from hosting energy infrastructure.

Economic development