New Haven and 15 others cities around the state will be eligible in the upcoming months to apply for the Working Cities Challenge, a developmental grant available through the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
The Working Cities Challenge is designed to promote economic growth in low-income New England cities by contributing funds to “cross-sector” institutions. Starting Nov. 1, Connecticut cities that have a population greater than 25,000, a median family income below the state’s median and a poverty rate above the state’s can express their intent to apply for the grant. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median family income and poverty rate in Connecticut in 2014 are $69,899 and 10.5 percent, respectively.
Connecticut will provide $1 million in funding for the program and the remaining $2 million will be donated by various foundations, businesses and other donors, according to the program’s website.
“The premise for Working Cities Challenge is for cities to be successful and get traction on the knotty economic growth issues that they’re all facing,” Director of Working Cities Challenge CT David Radcliffe said. “That key to success is developing cross-sector collaborative teams that are organized around a shared vision.”
Before introducing Working Cities, the Boston Fed conducted studies on the importance of creating networks between governments, businesses and non-profit organizations, said New Haven’s Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81. With the abundance of post-industrial cities throughout Massachusetts, Nemerson added, the Boston Fed decided to start the program in 2013 to help these types of cities build up cross-sector networks.
Though Working Cities started their work with larger, post-industrial cities in Massachusetts, the organization wanted to give the same opportunity to smaller cities. In its second round in 2015, Working Cities opened up grants to smaller Massachusetts cities, and, eventually, chose to expand to Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Working Cities planned a series of information sessions in each region of the Constitution State, one of which took place Sept. 28 in North Haven. At these sessions, leaders and residents from multiple cities in the region learn more about the challenge, criteria, timetable and other relevant information to decide whether or not their community should pursue the grant.
The Elm City already has many partnerships between sectors and has “sophisticated” non-profit organizations, Nemerson said, but the city will still seek out the grant.
“We’ll put together, I think, a very good team to apply,” Nemerson said.
After expressing the intent to apply, cities submit an application for the initial design phase of the grant, Radcliffe said. If the application is successful, cities earn $15,000 to continue the development of their application for the second phase. If the second application is successful, the city will receive a multiyear implementation award, winners of which have received up to $700,000.
How a city approaches economic growth is really up to them, Radcliffe said, so funds can be used for any project that can help the city.
For example, Springfield was awarded $475,000 this summer in the second round of Massachusetts’ Working Cities Challenge. The city plans to use the grant to help potential workers secure adequate jobs, said Richard Griffin, senior project manager at Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.
During Springfield’s development phase, the team used their $15,000 to hire consultants and to host community input meetings.
“A lot of people are head strong, so sometimes we had to bring in a consultant to keep us going in the right direction and to help us set up goals,” Griffin said.
Although Springfield has yet to receive its initial payment, the city plans to set up an improved job portal so job seekers can understand in more comprehensible English which skills are required for certain jobs, as well as to provide more workforce training for residents.
Eligible Connecticut cities include New Haven, Hartford, West Haven, Middletown and Bridgeport.