At its January 5 meeting, the Gila County Board of Supervisors approved a partnership with the Gila County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to apply for the highly-competitive Promise Zone designation.
Awarded to only one rural community per year, the program would give organizations in our area a vital leg-up when applying for federal grants. Once awarded, a community’s Promise Zone designation lasts for ten years. “Promise zones, with their bonus points, get the lion’s share for the next ten years,” says Sandy Palmer, IDA’s Administrative Manager. IDA will serve as the required lead agency for the application.
In addition to providing priority for highly sought after federal programs, the designation connects the Promise Zone to a liaison to assist with navigating the often complicated network of federal funding opportunities. The area would also receive five AmeriCorps VISTA members per year to help support the anti-poverty work related to the Promise Zone.
Palmer explains that the liaison is as important a part of the designation as the funding advantage. “The liaison understands the system at the federal level,” says Palmer. Their expertise could help eliminate the “ten to 15 years of trial and error,” that can come along with finding and applying for the best funding for a specific project.
In order to best meet the needs of Gila County residents and formulate the most competitive application possible, IDA and Gila County are seeking Promise Zone designation for what they’re calling the “Central Arizona Transformation Corridor,” which includes Superior, Globe, Miami, San Carlos, Canyon Day, Hayden, Winkelman, Young/Pleasant Valley, and Tonto Basin.
The Promise Zone’s regional approach “brings everyone to the table,” notes Palmer. In communities like Globe-Miami where regional partnerships have proven important in projects like the aquatic center, Palmer says that the Promise Zone designation could help. In addition to the unanimous approval from the Gila County Board of Supervisors, the town councils of Winkelman and Superior have shown overwhelming support for the application.
“I’m pretty passionate about this Promise Zone,” said Gila County Supervisor John Marcanti at the Jan. 5 meeting. “There’s a lot of programs, grants, and applications put forth every year. I believe this will truly help them and help Gila County as a whole.”
Palmer says that some of the federal funding sources that the Promise Zone has the potential to provide assistance with are “already being tapped,” in Gila County. She’s also excited about the possibility of connecting with new programs that could, for example, help build Veterans housing or establish a Youth Build program in the area to teach construction trades while addressing blight.
The application is due February 23 and the process is highly selective. Last year, there were 87 applicants for the rural Promise Zone designation and only one selected. Past rural Promise Zones include areas in Southeastern Kentucky and South Carolina. The program also selects five urban and one tribal Promise Zone each year. President Obama announced the Promise Zone initiative during a 2013 State of the Union address, but Palmer explains that the program has evolved over many decades as federal agencies have looked to work together to maximize efficiency and impact. Palmer expects to hear about the outcome of the application later in the spring.
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.