By Melissa Latham
Community leaders in New Hampshire face a unique challenge when it comes to creating a healthy, vibrant economy in their cities and towns, particularly in a state where the vast majority of our geography is considered rural.
When tasked with driving economic development, conventional wisdom and traditional practices may have municipalities focused on attracting new businesses and creating jobs. And while those are critical pieces for success, attracting investment capital and businesses to grow local economies requires a more holistic approach. Successful economic development efforts require a broader strategy to approaching the revitalization of our Main Streets and downtowns through investments that revolve around the people living and working in our communities.
These investments include access to facilities and services that enable increased economic participation by individuals and families, which ultimately supports growth of the local business sector and job opportunities. Infrastructures and services like quality, affordable childcare facilities, the creation of new housing units and other public facilities are critical to economic development efforts. Beyond traditional infrastructure and services, growth can also come from municipal investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives that save tax payer dollars and free up resources for additional investments that will drive growth.
Whether directly accessing resources or supporting the work of businesses and nonprofits within your municipality, here are ways to unlock the potential in your community and drive economic growth.
Exploring New Ideas in Your Community
Access to funds that enable municipalities to explore a concept and determine its viability is an important part of overarching community and economic development efforts. One way to do so is through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, administered by the Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA), which provides up to $12,000 in grant funds for planning and feasibility related activities. Municipalities can apply for funding to conduct activities like income surveys, preliminary architectural and engineering design, cost estimates and market analysis.
CDFA also recently launched its Pre-Development Program to help municipalities and nonprofit organizations prepare local development projects for funding and implementation. The program supports activities such as studying the feasibility of renovating a downtown building, gathering public input on a project idea, developing a business plan for a new facility or seeking planning and zoning approval. Loans of up to $100,000 are available and eligible projects must stand a reasonable chance of being financed and initiated within two years.
The program was piloted in 2016 when CDFA provided a $24,000 predevelopment loan to support the historic assessment of the Belknap Mill in downtown Laconia. The building is central to the community’s downtown economic revitalization plan and the historic assessment would set the stage for a capital campaign to support critical renovations. These resources have enabled the organization to move forward more quickly and solidify a case for large-scale financing to complete the project.
The end result of an upfront investment in exploration and resources: a renovated building that anchors downtown rejuvenation, spurs additional economic development and creates new jobs in the heart of the community.
Downtown Revitalization Driving Economic Growth
The success of a community can depend on whether it provides a sense of place, a connection between the community and the people who live and work there. That’s why taking a holistic approach to economic development is critical and goes beyond business and jobs growth.
The development underway in downtown Franklin serves as an excellent example of strategic, public-private collaborations that will provide value to the greater community, the families who live and work there, and the regional economy. The transformation of this community includes a number of public and private resources, including three key CDFA programs that support the financing and development of critical infrastructure that sets a community on the trajectory for growth.
Working with CATCH Neighborhood Housing, the City of Franklin leveraged CDBG funds to renovate a vacant mill property into 45 units of affordable housing. The units provide permanently affordable homes for approximately 80-100 adults and children, all of whom are of low- and moderate-income households.
Public Facilities and Community Services
The Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties is collaborating with the City to demolish a deteriorating structure downtown and develop a new facility to provide critical social services to low- and moderate-income residents in Franklin and six area towns. The organization provides services in the areas of child development, health and nutrition, energy assistance, job development, housing, and more.
Energy Efficiency Improvements
In 2016 as part of the “Franklin Goes Green” initiative, the City completed a municipal streetlight conversion project. The conversion replaced nearly 500 streetlights with energy efficient LED fixtures and is now saving Franklin $31,000 annually in electricity costs. The project was financed with a low-interest loan through CDFA’s Clean Energy Fund and leveraged rebates from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. In addition to reducing Franklin’s streetlight bill by half as a result energy savings, the new LED fixtures provide a vast improvement in streetlight quality, with a more focused lighting solution which reduces light pollution. The new LED fixtures have an expected life of at least 20 years and Franklin plans to divert the energy savings into other much needed municipal projects.
PermaCity Life, a local nonprofit, is using CDFA Tax Credit resources for façade and building improvements for three downtown properties. The renovated properties will house new business tenants including a restaurant and micro-brewery, community coffee house, an outdoor recreation business and a software company.
By taking a holistic, public-private approach to economic development, efforts like those underway in Franklin can trigger additional investments, increase access to critical services, attract new business tenants downtown who will create jobs and positively contribute to the growth of the regional economy.
Creating a Sense of Place
At a recent event that brought together municipalities, as well as community development, planning and creative professionals, Sarah Stewart, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, commented “…as with each distinct region of our state, each downtown or Main Street is unique and rather than try to replicate the success of another community, embrace what is distinctive about your local natural and cultural assets. Along with the need for strong partnerships to make great things happen, I believe it is authenticity that will yield long term success.”
There are dedicated resources to support community and economic development initiatives available. They are fundamental to the growth and prosperity of our communities, and ultimately our state. Statewide organizations, like the Community Development Finance Authority, are committed to approaching these efforts in an innovative and collaborative way that meets the evolving needs of Granite State municipalities.
There is no one-size-fits all solution to an effective economic development strategy, but it has been demonstrated that communities will see success when they put people and sense of place at the core of their efforts.
Melissa Latham is Communications Manager with the Community Development Finance Authority. Melissa can be reached by phone at 603.226.2170 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FINANCE AUTHORITY
Economic Development Grants and Loans
Competitive program to help create jobs that provide good wages, benefits, and training programs. Funds can also be used for acquisition of land and buildings, construction of commercial buildings, purchase of machinery and equipment, employee training, and public facilities improvements. Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Clean Energy Fund
Loan and credit enhancement program for businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities to finance energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy generation projects. Municipalities can finance energy improvements for municipal buildings, street lighting, water and sewer treatment facilities. Funds are also available for agricultural producers and rural small businesses in New Hampshire interested in low-cost energy audits for their facility.
Housing and Public Facilities Grants
Competitive grant program to provide funding for affordable housing and housing rehabilitation, as well as finance water and sewer system improvements, transitional and homeless shelters, municipal infrastructure, handicapped access, and neighborhood or community centers that provide public services to low- and moderate-income people. Funds can be used to purchase, rehabilitate, expand, and improve the condition and supply of housing for low- and moderate-income homeowners and tenants.
Up to $12,000 grant for planning and feasibility related activities to determine whether or not a proposed project is viable. Eligible activities include income surveys, preliminary architectural and engineering design, cost estimates, and market analysis.
Pre-development Loan Program
Loans of up to $100,000 are available to help municipalities and nonprofit organizations prepare local development projects for funding and implementation. Eligible activities include studying the feasibility of renovating a downtown building, gathering public input on a project idea, developing a business plan for a new facility or seeking planning and zoning approval.
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