NHARPC CORNER: Economic Resiliency Planning

Natalie Gemma, Economic Recovery Coordinator, Strafford Regional Planning Commission; Stacey Doll, Community Resiliency Planner, North Country Council; and Jay Minkarah, Executive Director, Nashua Regional Planning Commission

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

Across the state and beyond, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of integrating resiliency efforts to enhance a community’s ability to respond more quickly to unprecedented circumstances while lessening the impacts to our local and regional economies. With support from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration (EDA) through the CARES Act, several of New Hampshire’s Regional Planning Commissions were able to implement a variety of programs aimed to assist member communities with economic resiliency planning. Through these efforts, each RPC strived to increase awareness, provide data and information sharing, create connections with community members and stakeholders, and develop regional economic development priorities, goals, and action items to achieve them. Below, are a few examples of how three RPCs have approached economic resiliency planning within their regions.  

RPC Strafford

The Strafford Regional Planning Commission (SRPC) launched several programs designed to support economic recovery and resiliency planning for the region’s municipalities and businesses as they worked to navigate the constantly evolving circumstances faced as a result of the pandemic. Through outreach and engagement efforts with municipalities and businesses, which in large part came from the meetings with the Seacoast Economic Development Stakeholder (SEDS) group, a collective entity of economic development stakeholders at the local, regional, and state level who meet regularly to work collaboratively to promote the economic vitality of our region, SRPC was able to obtain a clear understanding of what some of the urgent needs of our communities were. In response, this allowed staff to design programs accordingly to ensure those needs were being met.

For municipalities, the Record Digitization Program was created to promote organizational resiliency by increasing efficiency for municipal staff if and when required to work remotely while enabling access to digital records for the public. It is estimated that the program- which was offered at no cost to 13 SRPC municipalities, lasted 9 months and involved the support of 14 staff members (between full or part-time employees and interns)- led to the digitization of over 10,000 municipal documents, including site plans, subdivision plans, tax maps, among other documents.

For businesses, the Consultant Technical Assistance program was created, where SRPC partnered with 5 private consultants to provide free targeted technical support to small businesses in the areas of website development, marketing, advertising, graphic design, audio visual support, IT services, and cybersecurity. By the end of the year-long program, a total of 76 businesses across 13 SRPC municipalities received technical support at no cost to them, representing over 277 hours of assistance at a value of $32,000.

Other efforts put forward to promote economic resiliency included the Promoting Outdoor Play (POP!) tool, monthly resource and information sharing with local businesses, and a Resiliency Subcommittee comprised of SRPC commissioners. To learn more about SRPC’s work under the CARES Act grant, please visit http://strafford.org/uploads/documents/plans/edd/ceds_2022.pdf.

North Country Council Regional Planning Commission and Economic Development District just completed a two-year economic and community recovery and resiliency planning effort.  This effort, known as North Country Rising, included a robust community and industry engagement process to define resiliency for different economic sectors, identify the greatest assets and needs across all eight forms of capital, and develop goals and strategies to build economic resilience in the region over time.  The goals and strategies fall into seven common theme areas: 1.) Collaboration and Collective Impact; 2.) Planning and Assessment; 3.) Supporting and Investing in Community Backbone Systems; 4.) Equity, Connectivity and Access; 5.) Balanced Economies; 6.) Innovation, Education and Workforce Development; and 7.) Culture, Climate and Quality of life.  The North Country Rising Plan and supporting Case Studies, Business Resource Roadmap, and Stories of Resilience interviews and videos can be viewed at www.nccouncil.org/north-country-rising/.

 north country council

North Country Council will be continuing economic resiliency work over the next 12-18 months through the award of an Economic Adjustment and Assistance grant through the Economic Development Administration.  The funds allocated will be used to support two efforts that further economic and community resiliency in the region: 1.) Facilitating the development of collective impact collaboration for various sectors of the economy and 2.) Broadening the region’s understanding and response to economic and community resiliency by including climate mitigation, adaptation strategies, and support for environmentally sustainable business development. 

In the spring of 2022, the Nashua Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) completed a comprehensive economic development plan intended to address the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This effort was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration (EDA). The pandemic had far-reaching impacts to the economy including business losses and closures, job losses, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. While some of these impacts were of relatively short duration such as public health related restrictions on business activity, the pandemic may well result in long-term changes in how people work, shop, and interact with one another. The plan addressed the impacts of COVID-19 on the region’s economy with a particular focus on the heavily impacted retail and restaurant sectors, workforce, entrepreneurship, commercial real estate, and traditionally disadvantaged and underserved businesses. In addition, the effort also resulted in branding under the new name and logo Spark.

To develop the plan, NRPC worked with municipal staff and a broad-based steering committee to identify sites throughout the region with the highest potential for commercial development, redevelopment, and reinvestment. These included sites within designated Opportunity Zones, New Markets Tax Credit eligible areas, New Hampshire designated Economic Revitalization Zones, Brownfields, and other target sites. Target sites are featured on the new Spark website (www.nashuarpc.org/economic_development/) together with key information including available financial incentives to help inform investment decisions. The site also includes overlay maps showing natural constraints such as wetlands and floodplains, zoning, and infrastructure including highways, and public water and sewer.

NRPC Spark

NRPC’s planning effort was informed by a robust public outreach effort. In addition to steering committee members, input was sought through focus groups, individual meetings with specific industries, and a series of surveys. This multi-pronged approach provided insights on challenges facing each industry and provided the basis for a detailed set of recommendations, which can be reviewed viewed on the Spark website. The Spark site also provides entrepreneurs and small businesses with a central location for resources and connections to regional, state, and federal business assistance organizations and programs. In addition, the Spark website serves as a marketing tool to put the Greater Nashua area on the map and attract future businesses and investment to the region.

RPCs can provide a broad knowledge of planning topics and network of state and regional partners to build capacity at the municipal level. Reach out to your RPC to learn more about how you can plan for changing conditions in your community.

Article Topics: