At its January 5th 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.
This is the third and final year of Promise Zone designations, and only one rural designation will be awarded this 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, will receive the lion’s share of federal funding for the next ten years,” notes Sandy Palmer, Administrative Manager for the IDA. The IDA will serve as the required lead agency for the application.
According to Fred Barcon, IDA Vice President, the IDA is constantly searching for opportunities to spur economic growth in Gila County. “The Promise Zone is not an end-all, fix-all,” says Barcon, who goes on to explain that when the IDA courts developers for potential projects in Southern Gila County, they are asked about infrastructure issues, housing stock, crime rates, and education rating. “If developers don’t find what they’re looking for, they will not invest,” he says, adding, “The Promise Zone provides access to federal funds to address these issues. If we don’t leverage federal funds, the chances of securing private investment and development are slim.”
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.
“They bring an outsider’s perspective and have worked in other communities and know which funds can be combined for maximum impact,” notes Barcon. According to Barcon and Palmer, the expertise of these liaisons can help eliminate years of trial and error that come along with addressing regional issues, identifying and applying for the best combination of funding for specific projects. For example: HUD, USDA and EPA joined together to address issues in rural New Mexico with tremendous results in a condensed period of time.
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, the Promise Zone designation could help. In addition to the unanimous approval from the Gila County Board of Supervisors, the town councils of Winkelman, Hayden 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 explains that some federal funding sources are already being tapped in Gila County and the addition of the Promise Zone designation would mean better access to a range of funding sources. She says the IDA is also excited about the possibility of connecting with new programs that could, for example, help build Veterans housing, weatherization and utility assistance grants for elderly, and establish a Youth Build program in the area to teach construction trades while addressing blight.
Cliff Potts, IDA President, feels this opportunity is one that provides the disadvantaged regions of Gila County a leg up to determine their future. The program, he says, will provide access to federal resources to help them address some of their biggest challenges. “I really appreciate the potential we would have to bring our region together and achieve a higher quality of life for residents of this “Transformation Corridor. This Promise Zone really is a great opportunity,” says Potts.
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 says the IDA expects to hear about the outcome of the application later in the spring.
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