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Expansion Of Northeast Regional Rural Economic Development Program Announced

Senator Patrick Leahy (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Senator Patrick Leahy announces expansion of Northern Border Regional Commission

The Northern Border Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership that aids economic development in northern New England and New York.  On Thursday, Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy announced that the program is expanding in Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire.
The Northern Border Regional Commission aids economic development in areas that are considered in economic distress across a region that parallels the Northeast northern forest.  Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development Deputy Secretary Ted Brady is Governor Phil Scott’s alternate on the commission.  “The Northern Border Regional Commission was created as a four state entity: New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. And it’s modeled on commissions around the country that realize there’s a unique federal-state partnership. The state and the feds are co-equals in administering this entity that administers federal dollars to help the people of these communities invest in themselves recognizing that rural America needs that kind of assistance.”

The commission was originally formed in the 2008 Farm Bill. Senator Leahy explains the scope and funding has been expanded with the completion of the 2018 Farm Bill.  "True to the Commission’s name it only included Vermont counties near the Canadian border. But then last year we started writing a new Farm Bill. We realized we had to broaden the boundaries.  I also knew that we were going to have to put a lot more money into it and we secured $25 million for it which is a rather substantial increase from where it is.”

While Leahy’s focus is on his home state, Brady notes the expansion includes additional counties in New York and New Hampshire.  “It didn’t expand to all of New Hampshire. There’s an additional county or two.”
Harold Parker:  “Two.”
Brady:  “Two additional counties in New Hampshire and multiple additional counties in New York.  Vermont is the only statewide Northern Border Regional Commission territory.”  

Northern Border Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Harold Parker says qualifications for the program vary.  “It depends on the county. There are the economically distressed, as we qualify it, which is a 80-20 federal versus local match. There are the transitional counties which is 50-50 I believe. And then there is the attainment counties. It’s the type of county that you may have a really distressed area in one section of the county, not so bad in the other, so it’s based on more of the local economic stats in those counties. The overall qualifications haven’t changed it’s just basically the territory expanded.”

An additional $7 million has also been allocated through the Commission for Regional Forest Economy Partnership. Brady says the money will be used to address the decline in the forest economy industry across the region.   “This is something we see from far western New York to far northeastern Maine. Our forest economy is changing. There are less people working in the woods. We’ve had paper mills close. We need to address that. And the Senator put aside this $7 million to say if you’re a community that’s impacted, if you’re a company that is struggling to make it due to the change, we have a resource now to help you transition to help a community transition. It could be that we’re going to invest directly in wood products. But it could also be that that community needs broadband.  Both of those are eligible activities under this separate $7 dollars.”

Brady notes upcoming informational sessions are scheduled assist potential applicants. “This is a big deal. We’re going from only six counties of the state being eligible to every county in the state. Every town every good idea in the state is now eligible for this federal grant money up to a half-million dollars for infrastructure.”

Senator Leahy:  “I want it to work. This is not just a ‘Oh here’s some federal money or here’s some state money. Thank you very much. Goodbye.’ I want it to make the community better but I want to create jobs. We need jobs.”

Applications will be available beginning March 8 on the commission’s website.