NHARPC CORNER: Regional Planning in a Time of Crisis

James Burdin, AICP, Senior Economic Development Planner, Strafford RPC; Jen Czysz, AICP, Executive Director, Strafford RPC, and Michelle Moren-Grey, Executive Director, North Country Council.

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.


New Hampshire’s Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) are in a unique position to serve our communities in times of crisis. RPCs develop and have long standing established relationships with federal, state, and local partners throughout our normal planning and work programs that allow us to pass information between these separate levels of government in times of need. Our familiarity with federal and state funding programs allows us to connect our communities to funding opportunities. Throughout the state, RPCs regularly assist municipalities with hazard mitigation planning funded by NH Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Additionally, they provide grant-writing and administration services for Community Development Block Grants through NH Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) and leverage US Economic Development Administration (EDA) funding for economic development planning on behalf of their communities and regions. In response to the rapidly changing COVID-19 crisis RPCs are available to provide technical assistance directly to municipalities that can build your capacity for grant writing, data analysis, policy development, information sharing, and facilitating public conversations.

Strafford Regional Planning Commission staff has been partnering with local small businesses and municipal economic development officials to develop MightySmall.io, a digital downtown platform for promoting small businesses through COVID-19. The site connects consumers directly to local small businesses, who can share information about the services they will be providing in response to evolving public health guidelines and emergency orders. As businesses shift a larger share of their activities online, MightySmall allows people to continue to find and connect with small businesses in their community within a digital space. MightySmall also has a resource guide for businesses looking for information about how to build their web presence.

Southwest Region Planning Commission, Rockingham Planning Commission, and Strafford Regional Planning Commission have been convening regular teleconferences to connect their communities to information and resources in response to COVID-19. Southwest Region Planning Commission hosted a session featuring staff from NH CDFA and their congressional delegation to answer questions about the federal Paycheck Protection Program, NH CDFA’s Non-Profit Relief Fund, and other business resources helping to sustain businesses. Strafford Regional Planning Commission led a discussion for municipal economic development staff to share ideas and best practices for restaurants planning to reopen under the Governor’s physical distancing 2.0 plan. All nine RPCs have also partnered with the Secretary of State’s office to compile a list of New Hampshire businesses for the purpose of sharing information and providing free technical assistance. Contact your RPC for more information about how you can reach businesses in your community.

RPCs also have a formal role in the application process for certain types of federal funding. If your RPC has a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), that plan will include list of regional economic development projects, as will regional transportation plans. Adding your projects to these lists may make them more competitive for certain types of federal funding, and communicating regularly about your upcoming project and funding needs can help your RPC to develop a pipeline of eligible projects or to assist with identifying and applying for funding when sources become available. For example, North Country Council provides pre-project coaching sessions specific to Northern Borders Regional Commission funding, which is available to communities in Belknap, Carroll, Cheshire, Coos, Grafton, and Sullivan Counties. As COVID-19 is presenting new challenges for municipal operations or disrupting existing programs, RPCs can work with you to identify needs, estimate the cost of that need, and identify funding sources that will support implementation of new programs.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on many activities that we take for granted in our daily lives. As circumstances continue to evolve, RPCs are working with a variety of state and regional partners to research unanswered questions about future impacts to our communities. Coming into 2020 the housing market was extremely tight, and it is not yet clear how the economic impacts of COVID-19 will extend to the availability and affordability of housing. Tourism and outdoor recreation activities, from beach re-openings to leaf-peeping to ski season, will depend on both the reality of public health conditions and public perception of safety and economic conditions Special planning may be necessary to support and prepare a variety of industries for the coming months. School districts and summer recreation programs are making difficult decisions about how to structure their activities for the summer and fall. The impacts of these and other childcare decisions will trickle into the mainstream economy as parents are forced to balance the needs of their families with their need or ability to return to work. Each of these scenarios is constantly evolving, and we must continue to find answers to these questions at the state, regional, and local levels if we are to reopen our communities safely and successfully.

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

Strafford Regional Planning (James Burdin, AICP, Senior Economic Development Planner, lead author; and Jen Czysz, AICP, Executive Director) and North Country Council (Michelle Moren-Grey, Executive Director)