The Northern Border Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership with a mission to encourage economic development across a four-state region, including New Hampshire. Each year, grants are awarded to projects that reflect that mission. Eligible counties include Carroll, Coos, designated areas in Grafton, and Sullivan Counties. Our deputy director, Chris Way, coordinates applications and today talks about what you need to know to apply.
1. The call is out now for the next round of grants offered annually by the Northern Border Regional Commission. For the past several years, you have coordinated the applications put forth by New Hampshire agencies and organizations. Can you tell us about the eligibility requirements to apply?
First, you do have to have a project that is eligible portions of the state, namely Sullivan, Coos, Grafton and Carroll. Grafton is a little more restrictive this year as only certain communities are eligible (called isolated areas of distress).
Next, you have to be a municipal, state or nonprofit entity. Private businesses are not eligible. That’s not to say there cannot be collaboration; it’s just that the grant can’t be a pass through to private companies.
Third, and not to state the obvious, you need to have a project that will actually work and can be done as proposed. Can you finish the project in the time allotted? Will you be able to secure the matching funds needed? Do you have the approvals necessary to make it work? We, and NBRC, focus on these issues, because with such limited funds, we need to make sure that projects can move as proposed and money spent wisely.
If you have questions about eligibility, particularly if you are in Grafton County, go to the website or call me.
2. What’s new this year about the process?
The program has certainly evolved over time, and this year, several exciting things are happening.
The NBRC has listened to the states and have a new website with online applications, forms and information on past grants. I am really pleased to see that FAQs are available online, because it was clear from previous cycles that all applicants had many of the same questions and challenges. Not only does it mean that New Hampshire applicants work with the same information, it also means that all four states, including New York, Vermont and Maine, are talking from the same playbook. The application is not hard, but many applicants in the past have stated that more published information would certainly make the process easier. This is also going to be reinforced with county-wide information sessions; the first one will be from 2 to 4 pm, April 1, at the 5th Circuit Court Probate Court Room, third floor, at 14 Main St., Newport. Stay tuned for others.
Did I mention more money available this year? It looks like we will be able to fund more projects with $1.7 million for each state. The $250,000 limit remains, but it does provide the grant review team with more flexibility. In fact, we had more money last year than the previous, and we were able to fully or partially fund seven great projects.
Finally, it’s also reassuring for me to know that NBRC staff stands ready to assist and partner with us on projects. These folks are passionate about the program and it has truly shown this year. Christine Frost, formerly of the North Country Council, recently joined the agency, which has really upped the game for the NBRC grant administration and its awareness of the issues in our eligible counties. The NBRC team has also done a bang up job to encourage all of our states to communicate and supportive of projects that benefit the Northern borders region.
3. What makes a good project for a Northern Borders Regional Commission grant?
Tell a good story! Tell us how your project will create jobs, improve tourism or have a regional impact. Why should your project be a priority for the state? Will it increase the workforce, create infrastructure, promote tourism or result in new businesses?
Let me offer a brief word on application size and letters of support. Sometimes we receive applications with huge packets of information. All well and good, but remember a concise packet that hits the high points and tells the story has as much an impact as stacks of information. Local support is certainly welcome, as are the key letters from all of the partners involved in the project, but strong thoughtful letters of support can be just as good as many letters saying the same thing. I guess what I am saying is that we tend to focus on the cake, and not just the frosting.
Everybody always wants to know how projects get decided. Once projects are deemed eligible, the packages are scored by a committee based on several criteria. Recommendations are made to the commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, who then makes recommendations to the governor.
Knowing that, what makes one project better than another? Often, we get really good projects, but they may be focused on a small group who will enjoy the results, or the results are hard to predict or assess. While they are definitely eligible, it can be difficult to rise to the top when there are other projects making a better case for regional and even statewide economic benefits. And no matter what, job creation is always a strong factor.
On the flip side, be realistic – don’t predict multitudes of jobs created if you can’t back it up with a convincing argument. Don’t offer matching funds proposals that cannot be realized come time to sign the contract. We’re going to be doing more work this year on assessing the past results and we all want great stories to tell.
4. Can you give one or two examples of projects that made a difference in their communities/regions?
Sure. We just visited one in Lebanon. Last year, River Valley Community College received a grant and one year later, the inside of the building looks fantastic. The applicants did exactly what they said they were going to do, and I have no doubt the project will be successful.
Another one is the Grafton County Enterprise Center in Plymouth. Business incubators are attractive contributors to the economy and can make great projects.
And while we’re talking about successes, I also have high hopes for the Groveton mill site and its water and sewer project. That’s just about completed and will be a key piece for this high priority development site.
5. For the person/agency in Coos, Carroll, Sullivan and selected communities in Grafton Counties with a project that could benefit from a Northern Borders Regional Commission grant, what should they do next?
Don’t keep your project a secret. Let us know about it so we can talk it out with you. We want to get all projects to a point of eligibility. We don’t want waste your time, but we don’t want potential great projects to be left on the table.
For more information, contact Way via email or call 271-2341.