As an economic development consulting firm, Fourth Economy serves a wide array of clients, including small and large non-profit organizations, larger cities, municipal governments, and others. However, no matter how large or small, there are some common themes as to how our clients move from the germ of an idea through to the planning stage and, ultimately, how they fund the outcomes of their plans.
We have found that the most successful projects are not created in response to funding opportunities but rather around a specific need or challenge a community is facing. Our economic development work often necessitates identifying specific solutions to help solve challenges, getting the right partners to the table, coalescing around a vision, and helping move from planning to action by identifying potential funding streams.
Finding the funding for an initial plan is like getting seed money as an entrepreneur – it allows the germ of an idea to take root, grow, and then, through larger community buy-in, sustain more concrete outcomes and bigger projects.
Illustration: Leeya Jackson/Ramsey County Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan
We have seen clients use both federal and state funding programs as well as private foundation dollars to do this work. Small businesses and corporate partners can sometimes be overlooked as financial contributors, but when there is an alignment of goals with clear, results-based outcomes, investing in an economic development project can be a no-brainer.
For the private sector, workforce development programs or streetscape improvement initiatives are often attractive avenues for building positive community relations.
Additionally, finding the funding for an initial plan is like getting seed money as an entrepreneur – it allows the germ of an idea to take root, grow, and then, through larger community buy-in, sustain more concrete outcomes and bigger projects.
Specific funding mechanisms our clients have used include Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative in Indiana, the Neighborhood Partnership Program in Pennsylvania, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars. It is often assumed that there is little flexibility in these resources, but developing clear implementation and execution strategies will demonstrate an organization’s capacity to receive these dollars and take them far.
Case Study: Restore Greater Newport
Since 2018, Fourth Economy has served as a strategic partner to the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce by managing their regional economic development initiative, Connect Greater Newport. This initiative provides services to the business community and municipalities in Newport and Bristol County, Rhode Island.
As the pandemic forced closures of the region’s businesses and significantly restricted tourism, Fourth Economy, the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, and Discover Newport (the region’s destination marketing organization - DMO) came together with local partners to form a recovery and resilience effort known as Restore Greater Newport. This effort sought to understand the needs of local businesses and residents and address the economic impacts of those needs. One identified need included the lack of online stores by several businesses, including retail shops, grocery stores, health food shops, and more. In response to this need, we developed a scope detailing how to create a shared platform to market products as well as an online payment processing portal to enable online sales.
In 2020, the State of Rhode Island utilized CARES Act funding to create a number of programs, one of which aimed to support intermediary organizations providing various forms of technical assistance to businesses. As part of this program, the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce applied for and received a $200,000 grant to support a ‘buy local’ campaign and digital storefront. In collaboration with Rhode Island-based web development firm Work-Shop Design Studio, we were able to support the digital storefront component of the project by developing Shop Greater Newport. Additionally, we facilitated small businesses registration to list their products and create a marketing campaign to promote the site. The site went live on November 30th, 2020–right in time for the holiday season–and has since been a great success. Shop Greater Newport continues to serve as a platform for the region’s small businesses, with 152 currently listed.
Do you have a creative funding strategy we haven’t mentioned here? Are you looking for funding for a plan or idea and want to strategize? Drop us a line, we’d love to connect with you.