- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A federally funded economic development organization that has helped bring and save hundreds of jobs in depressed areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York is slated for elimination under President Donald Trump’s budget.

Proponents of the Northern Border Regional Commission argue the funds provided over the years by the program have made possible a number of economic development projects, from airport improvements to water and sewer system upgrades.

Vermont’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said the commission plays a vital role in spurring development in economically challenged communities along the border with Canada.

“While he was elected with strong support from rural Americans, his budget abandons their hopes for economic revitalization,” Welch said. “Congress will write this budget, not the administration.”

In the Trump budget plan released this past week, the commission’s budget is cut from $10 million in the current fiscal year to $850,000 - a figure budget proponents say is enough for the agency’s “orderly closure.” The Trump administration said the states haven’t contributed the funding required of them to run the agency.

Ted Brady, deputy secretary of the Vermont Commerce Agency who represents the governor on the commission, said the states haven’t contributed cash to the program because it’s so new and has a small staff.

The staff is working with the Commission on getting contributions from the states, he said. The states contribute significant staff time of state employees who work with the groups seeking funding through the Commission.

“I think long-term … when the commission is more mature and has more needs for actual state dollars toward its mission, I think the statute is pretty clear the states are supposed to be participating both in cash and in match,” said Brady.

Statistics show that between 2010 and 2016, the Commission has contributed $21.1 million for 119 projects across the Northeast, created 137 new jobs and retaining 307.

The commission includes 36 counties in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. It was created by Congress in 2008 based on the model of the Appalachian Regional Commission. It was first funded in 2010.

Dave Snedeker, executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, said there are not a lot of programs that fund infrastructure in those states.

Funds through the commission have helped replace a ski lift in Vermont, get seaport equipment in Maine, build telecommunications infrastructure in New Hampshire and renovate areas of northern New York.

Snedeker points to a success story that was made possible with an emergency $100,000 award from the Commission that helped to close a funding gap for a company in the process of opening a wood pellet mill in New Hampshire.

Tabitha Bowling said she and her partner have been working since 2015 to pull together the project that will, once fully operational, create dozens of jobs.

She said the complicated $4.5 million project was almost ready, except for major equipment expenses. Working with Snedeker, Bowling and her partner got the emergency Northern Borders award that is allowing them to proceed.

It was only $100,000, but what that means to the project is substantial, it’s essential,” she said.


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