Economic designation allows region to apply for federal grants

WILTON — A recent designation by the United States Economic Development Administration will allow 10 southwestern Connecticut towns, as a region, to apply for economic grant opportunities.

Last month, the EDA designated an Economic Development District in southwestern Connecticut. This designation includes the municipalities of Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Stamford, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.

The designation allows these towns to work regionally to strengthen their economic development. As an EDD, the towns can apply for public works, economic adjustment, planning and other grants offered by the federal government.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes announced the EDD designation in a news release, saying, “A core part of my job in Congress is to fight for federal investments in our community. This designation will help me to do just that. Thanks to this Economic Development District, more of my constituents will benefit from critical grant programs offered by the federal government.”

The effort to achieve EDD designation was launched in 2015 by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments acting as the regional planning authority for 18 towns in southwestern Connecticut. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined Himes in support of WestCOG’s EDD application.

“This is one more tool in our arsenal of economic development activities, and a key achievement in bringing the region together to build a strong, shared economic future,” said Francis Pickering, executive director of WestCOG.

There are two grants the EDD is interested in applying for, according to Pickering and Michael Towle, WestCOG’s deputy director.

A planning grant in the amount of $40,000 to $75,000 a year would allow a staff member to update the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy on WestCOG’s website.

The CEDS was adopted in 2017 revolving around a strategy involving private, public and institutional sectors to create an action agenda setting out regional goals and objectives to boost economical development in the region.

“The CEDS was created before the pandemic hit and many things have changed, so it needs to be updated,” Towle said.

The second grant sought would be for $400,000 for economic recovery efforts from the CARES Act Pandemic Relief fund. This is a grant that other EDDs in the state have received, said Pickering.

The CARES Act provides only for necessary expenditures due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and is not used to keep businesses afloat. “This is a competitive grant intended to help with economic recovery,” Pickering said.