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BENNINGTON — The Bennington County Regional Commission has applied for a planning grant through a competition supported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the state of Vermont.

The three-year, multi-phase competition, dubbed the Working Communities Challenge, is intended to strengthen the economies of Vermont's rural towns and and small cities.

The application submitted by BCRC was developed in collaboration with the town of Bennington, the Lightning Jar, Start-Up 802, the Bennington Area Makers, the Community College of Vermont and the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, according to the newsletter. The team identified two goals for the project: "to create new systems for economic empowerment within our community" and "to enable the intergenerational transfer of cross-disciplinary skills among our residents."

"If the application is successful," BCRC wrote in the newsletter, "Bennington will be one of eight Vermont communities to receive $15,000 as well as technical assistance during a six-month planning phase in the first half of 2020, during which the details of the proposed program will be worked out more fully."

Communities that win planning grants will become eligible to secure grants worth up to $300,000 to implement their envisioned initiatives, according to the program's website.

Bennington was previously identified by the competition's steering committee as one of nine "priority communities" that "meet conditions of high economic need" and "provide a likely opportunity for greater systems change that benefit residents with lower incomes," according to the website. Other priority communities included Brattleboro, Rutland City and Middlebury.

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Although Bennington was the region's only priority community, the BCRC application also includes the towns of Woodford, Pownal and Shaftsbury, according to the newsletter.

The Bennington project team expects to learn this month whether its proposal will advance to the planning phase, the newsletter states.

The state of Vermont, through Gov. Phil Scott's Agency of Commerce and Community Development, has committed $100,000 to the grant program, according to a May 2019 news release.

Launched as the Working Cities Challenge in Massachusetts in 2013, the initiative has awarded grants to communities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, according to the release.

The Vermont iteration's steering committee features representatives from National Life Group Foundation, NeighborWorks America, the Doris Duke Foundation, the Avangrid Foundation, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Community Foundation, the release states.

An overview of the Working Communities Challenge will be provided at BCRC's next meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16 at Loose Cannon Cafe, located at 139 Main St.


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