CRRC Sifang America
An aggressive strategic public affairs and media relations campaign
Railcar manufacturing returned to Chicago after a 50-year absence with the award of a $1.3 billion contract to leading global manufacturer CRRC Sifang America (CRRC) to build the next generation of railcars for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
CRRC transformed a shuttered 45-acre property on Chicago’s southeast side into its North American headquarters, which included the construction of a new 380,000 square-foot assembly facility and a center for hundreds of new jobs.
Suddenly, the historic transformation of a southeast side neighborhood was threatened. The freight rail industry launched an aggressive campaign against CRRC in an effort to stop CRRC’s growth in the United States. The reality is there are only a handful of companies with the knowledge, expertise and capability to manufacture passenger railcars. And they are all foreign companies.
Regardless, the opposition was gaining traction in Washington, D.C. working on federal legislation that would ban U.S. transit agencies from using federal funds to purchase passenger railcars from a CRRC subsidiary located in the U.S. The result: prohibit U.S. transit agencies from purchasing passenger railcars from CRRC subsidiaries in the future.
Strategy and Tactics:
While the opposition had been actively campaigning against CRRC in Washington, D.C. for at least two years, Resolute needed to break through the misinformation campaign, fast. Resolute launched a high-stakes public affairs campaign to position CRRC as the premier railcar manufacturer in the United States built upon fact-based education and outreach activities.
- Much of the opposition’s messaging focused on misinformation and fear mongering. Resolute engaged in reactive media outreach to first get CRRC’s perspective included in several high- profile media stories in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Reuters among others.
- Building on relationships with both national and regional reporters, Resolute proactively shared CRRC activities and educated reporters on the Chicago Transit Authority project. Within a matter of weeks, the negative, one-sided headlines subsided.
- National news articles became better researched and more balanced. Reporters were listening. Soon the Chicago Tribune wrote a powerful editorial in favor of protecting CRRC’s manufacturing facility.
Outreach and Engagement
- Resolute engaged stakeholders including labor unions, community organizations and suppliers to share their story and the impact the proposed legislation would have on their businesses.
- Resolute organized a grassroots outreach campaign to specifically highlight the businesses supplying parts for the 7000 Series railcars. As a result, CRRC was being supported by third parties who echoed the importance of investing in the U.S. marketplace and supporting jobs.
- Resolute worked in coordination with CRRC’s lobbyists to provide a suite of fact sheets and collateral materials, messaging and support from local stakeholders to help communicate CRRC’s position.
Resolute’s strategic and aggressive public affairs and media relations made an impact. On December 10, 2019 the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was approved by Congress; but with language to ensure public transit agencies will continue to benefit from competition in the passenger railcar industry for at least two years after the NDAA is enacted.
In the short term, transit agencies, including the CTA, will continue to have a choice of manufacturers, including CRRC, to modernize their passenger railcar fleets, which increases competition, lowers capital costs, and ultimately allows transit agencies to get the best value for their long-term transportation investments.
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