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Regional program is key to helping rural communities

The Northern Border Regional Commission is an important partnership between New Hampshire and the federal government. The NBRC provides opportunities to Granite State startups, projects and programs, helping economically distressed areas of New Hampshire that otherwise wouldn’t have access to the investments they need.

That’s why we’ve made it a top priority in Congress to ensure the NBRC is funded, and most recently, to expand its reach to include Cheshire County. In legislation recently signed into law, we secured a provision that ensures Cheshire County — plus additional communities in Belknap County and areas in New York and Vermont — will have access to the same important resources as every other NBRC-eligible county. Extending the NBRC’s reach was an important objective for us and Sen. Maggie Hassan, to ensure rural communities continue to have the tools they need to build up our industries and boost our regional economy.

Since it was established by Congress in 2008, the NBRC has provided critical economic development assistance to rural communities in northern and western New Hampshire — empowering local projects and programs in Coos, Grafton, Carrol and Sullivan counties with the help they need to grow or improve.

Over the last 10 years, the NBRC has invested more than $30.2 million in 152 job-creating projects, boosting support for transportation, infrastructure and telecommunications projects, workforce training programs, and more throughout the Northern Forest region, which includes New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New York. These investments have helped leverage more than $87 million in other public and private funds.

Last year, New Hampshire grantees used NBRC funds to make important investments in water infrastructure, health care facilities, commercial building renovations, affordable housing and energy efficiency efforts, as well as a STEM workforce training program.

The scope of the NBRC is broad, allowing for a wide variety of projects to qualify for these federal funds. Previous New Hampshire projects included improvements to local parking structures, the establishment of a laboratory for the N.H. Academy of Science and a substance-use treatment program in Bethlehem. The town of Whitefield utilized NBRC resources to improve the town’s septic system, while the Northern Forest Center used its NBRC investments on more than 57 forest-based businesses to maintain or create hundreds of jobs.

The economic opportunities available through the NBRC cast a wide net, which makes this program an excellent asset for our cities and towns. One of the best examples of this is the Claremont MakerSpace, which was awarded $250,000 in 2015 to get the project off the ground, renovating an old manufacturing building to house a shared work space for Granite State craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Director of the Claremont MakerSpace Josh Bushueff said: “The support of NBRC was instrumental in our successful conversion of a former brownfield site into the Claremont MakerSpace, an 11,000-square-foot facility that is now the hub of education, entrepreneurship and job skills training in downtown Claremont.”

Expanding the NBRC to include Cheshire County was also one of our top priorities. This expansion means assistance is now available to additional towns in western New Hampshire — from Keene to Swanzey to Jaffrey and in between — the broadened reach of the NBRC means additional federal resources to invest in high-priority projects in these communities are now available. One of the most important regional issues in this part of the state is broadband access. Last year, the NBRC helped the town of Bristol deliver these services by building a fiber network to expand broadband access. This kind of project would be a boon to communities in Cheshire County, which also needs assistance to improve cellphone coverage, address connectivity in rural areas and increase economic opportunity.

The NBRC is an open grant submission, which means that towns and businesses within NBRC eligible counties apply directly to the NBRC for funding. The deadline for this year will be announced soon, so be sure to check for updates and additional information about the application process. The NBRC is a valuable tool for New Hampshire and we encourage our local leaders to look at ways the NBRC can assist their communities.

Jeanne Shaheen of Madbury is the senior U.S. Senator for New Hampshire. Ann Kuster of Hopkinton represents N.H. District 2 in the U.S. House.