Governor Phil Scott (R) and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) on Tuesday encouraged Vermont communities struggling to overcome the decline in the forestry industry to consider utilizing a new $7 million grant program to spur new economic opportunities.
The NBRC (Northern Border Regional Commission) is seeking grant proposals through its newly launched Regional Forest Economy Partnership from governmental units and non-profit organizations across the four-state region from New York to Maine, including Vermont. The grant program aims to address the economic shift produced by the consistent decline of the forest products industry that has contributed to the displacement of workers and outmigration in the region. Through his work as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy directed the NBRC to support initiatives related to the forest-based economies and set aside a collective $7 million for this work.
Leahy said: "For generations, many communities across Vermont, northern New York and New England relied heavily on the economic benefits of the forest economy. But recent down-turns in wood markets have taken a toll. We need new solutions, new markets and sustained federal investment to ensure our rural communities can capitalize on new opportunities and retain their vibrancy. This new initiative will allow for demonstration for new wood products, such as mass timber construction, while also looking to help communities with critical needs such as closing the digital divide."
Leahy included language in the 2018 Farm Bill expanding the Northern Border Regional Commission territory to include every county in Vermont. This new program will be the first NBRC grant round open to communities across the entire state of Vermont.
"As a competitive global market has put pressure on our forest-based businesses, Vermonters are doing great work to reinvent the forest economy. This includes investing in outdoor recreation, developing new forest-based products, like wood pellets for modern wood heat, and looking for ways to bring broadband and other modern infrastructure to rural communities," said Governor Scott, who is the state cochair of the NBRC. "This federal-state partnership provides financial support to bring new ideas to scale. I want to thank Senator Leahy for his continued support of Vermonters and Vermont's rural economy, particularly in response to these challenging circumstances," Governor Scott added.
Applicants may apply for up to $1 million if they can demonstrate that any one of four criteria are met: an industry change in employment due to a decline in the forest industry, a wage reduction, a mill closure in the past 20 years, or county level outmigration. The NBRC is encouraging applications that have a multi-state benefit.
Interested applicants should visit nbrc.gov/content/Regional-Forest-Economy-Partnership for more information. The NBRC has announced multiple application rounds, with the first deadline for letters of intent on March 15.
Created in the 2008 Farm Bill, the NBRC is a federal-state partnership with a mission to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private-sector job creation throughout portions of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Since its inception, the Commission has awarded just over $30 million, which has leveraged $87 million to support 155 grants across the four states. In Vermont it has funded 58 projects totaling $10.6 million.