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5 Questions with Mark Scarano, Northern Border Regional Commission

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The latest round of annual grants from the Northern Borders Regional Commission was announced last month. Totaling $1,150,716, the seven grants were awarded to the Franconia Ski Club and state-owned Cannon Mountain Ski Area; the town of Northumberland; the New Hampshire Department of Transportation; TwinState MakerSpace Inc.; River Valley Community College; the Grafton County Economic Development Council and Plymouth State University.

Each project will help make a difference in its community and the region; a difference that may not have come to fruition were it not for this commission, which gives a boost to northern New Hampshire and three other states. We directed Five Questions this week to Mark Scarano, federal co-chairman of the Northern Border Regional Commission, about the goals of the program and how it helps economic development.


Mark Scarano ~ Northern Borders Regional Commission

1. What is the Northern Border Regional Commission and how is New Hampshire a part of it?

The Northern Border Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership for economic development in northern New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Maine.  The NBRC provides grants to higher impact economic and community development projects that show promise for job creation and encourage private sector investments. Projects from local governments and non-profits in Carroll, Coos, Grafton, and Sullivan counties are eligible for funding.  Match is 50 percent for each county, except for projects in Coos in which applicants have to come up with only 20 percent match. The maximum award is currently $250,000 and grants are decided by me and the collective vote of the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

I work closely with Governor Hassan’s alternate representative to the NBRC, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeff Rose, to review applications and identify the most promising projects for funding. New Hampshire really hit it out of the park during this year’s grant round: It had 20 applications, more than any other state.

2. How has the commission made a difference in rural New Hampshire?

Rural America has certainly taken it on the chin economically and demographically. The NBRC and its sister commissions around the country all emphasize supporting economic development and community initiatives in rural areas. The counties we cover in New Hampshire are some of the state’s most rural; most have populations that have only slightly grown compared to the US average.  Of course, Coos County has actually seen a population decline.

Our grants have provided early stage funding for some exciting economic and community development projects.  For instance, the Enterprise Center at Plymouth business incubator project supports and encourages new and expanding entrepreneurial companies through the resources of Plymouth State University’s College of Business Administration. Thanks to the NBRC, the project was able to leverage up to $2.3 million in funds to create a 10,000 square foot, high impact facility that serves the dual purpose of eliminating blighted conditions in downtown Plymouth.

NBRC’s funding support was invaluable to expand Northern Community Investment Corp.’s Wireless LINC system, which delivers competitive high speed internet service to businesses and homes across northern New Hampshire.  These were placed in location that were underserved by larger corporate providers.

And everyone is impressed with the Town of Littleton’s steadfast volunteers who are developing and promoting their downtown and riverfront areas.  Littleton has a strong track record of successfully completing larger economic development projects such as its industrial park.  The town’s application provided substantive plans and evidence of overwhelming local support. I have no doubt that these improvements will lead to new investments in that region.

3. The latest round of grants was recently announced. Why were these particular projects selected?

NBRC grants are very flexible and are meant to offer the greatest degree of options for well planned economic and community development projects.  While diverse in their activities, all of the 2015 projects we approved are projected to have strong regional economic impacts. For example, River Valley Community College will be using NBRC funds to renovate a former educational facility in downtown Lebanon.  Promoters of this project include Upper Valley health care operators and regional manufacturers seeking customized training for their employees. The Town of Northumberland will use NBRC funds to expand water and wastewater lines to the former Groveton mill site, now owned by a private investor.  Should the park attract the amount of development as projected, all of Coos County will benefit from the resulting jobs and investments.

4. What kind of agencies and organizations should plan to apply for a Northern Borders Commission grant next year?

Eligible applicants include state and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations. If anyone has a plan and vision for transforming his or her local and regional economy, please call me at (202) 590-6650 or our state partners the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development.  Chris Way at DRED is familiar with our programs and can be reached at (603) 271-2591.

5. Now that you’ve been federal co-chairman of the commission for about six months, what do you see as the potential for the Northern Borders region?

With visionary leadership, high aspirations, and a positive attitude, anything is possible for America’s Northern Border region. I’ve had the honor to visit communities throughout the four state region and discovered plenty of these qualities. As the NBRC federal-state partnership matures, we’ll continue to fund well-planned and transformative projects from these types of leaders and organizations.

Five Questions with Dave Pease, NH PTAP Program Manager

Friday, February 20th, 2015

(Welcome to our newest feature, Five Questions. Every week, nheconomy.com will introduce you to some of the most interesting and business-savvy people in New Hampshire, all within five questions. Ed.)


Selling to the government, whether at the federal, state, or local levels, can be a daunting challenge for businesses to pursue. It can also be a tremendous opportunity, with nearly half a trillion dollars waiting to be spent on products and services – some of which might surprise you.Print

To learn more about selling to government agencies, we talked to David Pease, program manager for the Procurement Technical Assistance Program. PTAP is a cooperative program of the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency and the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development. NH-PTAP’s sole purpose is to help New Hampshire businesses win contracts and subcontracts with a wide variety of government agencies.


What do the opportunities for contracting with the federal government look like in 2015?

Sequestration and the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have reduced government spending, so government contracting opportunities have become more competitive over the past few years. That said, it’s still an enormous market.

Federal contracting budgets peaked at $539 billion in 2011 and have declined steadily to $445 billion in 2014, a reduction of about 7 percent per year. We expect this to level off, unless Congress allows sequestration to continue, in which case the decline will continue and possibly accelerate.

Defense contracts are experiencing a shift from expenditures to support ‘boots on the ground’ to more strategic systems – ships, subs and aircraft systems. Drone-related expenditures remain high and are likely to continue to do so.

What business industries in New Hampshire have the best chances of landing a federal contract?

The federal government is always seeking the most effective goods and services at the lowest price consistent with high quality. New Hampshire companies that have excellent products, and are ‘lean and mean’ enough to provide them at highly competitive prices will continue to see good opportunities in the federal markets.

Many New Hampshire high-tech manufacturers have been, and will continue to be, successful bidders for federal contracts and subcontracts. In the wake of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, or commonly, ‘the Stimulus’), many New Hampshire construction contractors geared up for federal contracts, and have had increasing success carving out market share that they are likely to hold on to going forward.

We also have some outstanding specialty companies that will continue to see opportunities for their products and services.

What industries or types of companies would people be surprised to learn have received federal contracts with the help of PTAP?

The list is almost endless – juvenile furniture (cribs for Army daycare centers), off-road race driver training (for special operations troops) and investigation services (for the Department of Justice), to name just a few.

According to the SBA, “most of New Hampshire’s small businesses are very small, as 76.8 percent of all businesses have no employees, and most employers have fewer than 20 employees.” Are there opportunities for companies as small as these to bid for and win federal contracts?

Depending, of course, on the nature of the business, absolutely there are opportunities for the smallest of small businesses. Quite a number of our small machine shops, for example, make parts for military systems.

There are numerous small (but significant) contracts for landscaping, all of the construction trades, training services, security services, technical experts, food products, specialty garments – the list goes on and on.

What are the first steps business owners would have to take, if they’ve never done it before, to be able to bid for a federal contract?

We recommend that they become an NH-PTAP client. We provide free consulting and training to help New Hampshire businesses succeed with government contracting.

We usually start with an evaluation to understand the nature of the government markets for the company’s products or services. If the market appears to be attractive, then the company needs to determine what it needs to do to be ready to do business with Uncle Sam.

The legendary “red tape” is real, but NH-PTAP provides expert help getting through it, not just to winning a contract, but also through all of the requirements to comply with the government’s rules, along the way to successful completion and payment.
PTAP’s next training session is on Feb. 26, covering Federal Website Navigation III in Claremont. It’s a workshop where you’ll learn about the advanced tools available in the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS-NG). FPDS is the repository of historical federal procurement data and can be used to better understand Federal customers’ buying patterns and structure. It also offers an opportunity to research and monitor the Federal sales of competitors and potential team members. Used effectively, FPDS can be a powerful market research tool. For more details, prerequisites, and to register for free, click here. For a list of all upcoming PTAP training events, click here.