Coming together: Boston Fed to host summit for region’s Working Cities/Communities Challenges Coming together: Boston Fed to host summit for region’s Working Cities/Communities Challenges

2-day event for community development programs focuses on connection, sharing experiences 2-day event for community development programs focuses on connection, sharing experiences

October 12, 2022

The Maine Highlands and Newport, R.I., don’t have much in common at a glance except their New England location.

They’re at opposite ends of the region, with vastly different geographies (inland v. coastal), population densities (rural v. urban), and educational attainment (mostly high school v. mostly college).

But they’re both part of the Working Places initiative, a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston community development effort that includes 30 communities in five of the six New England states. And for the first time ever, residents from these communities are gathering at the Boston Fed.

The 2022 WCC Summit, scheduled for Oct. 19-20, offers participants an opportunity to build connections and share lessons learned, said Colleen Dawicki, the deputy director of Working Places and an organizer of the event.

“On the surface, New England’s rural and urban communities can seem very different,” she said. “But they have a lot more in common than people realize.”

The Working Cities Challenge and Working Communities Challenge grant programs are both Working Places components. The Working Cities Challenge focuses on promoting economic development in smaller, post-industrial cities. The Working Communities Challenge prioritizes strengthening the economies of northern New England’s rural towns, regions, and smaller cities.

But the concerns of both programs intersect. Unemployment, access to transportation, multigenerational support, and housing are among the issues that Working Cities and Working Communities teams are tackling.

“The more that people can connect around shared experiences, the more likely it is that they can build new opportunities together – and maybe even look at policy changes that could be affected at a state or even regional level,” said Dawicki, who works in the Boston Fed’s Regional & Community Outreach department.

Jessica Grant-Domond, a summit co-organizer, said all WCC teams are facing new economic challenges caused by the pandemic while still dealing with the problems that existed before it.

“The pandemic has definitely impacted this summit’s timing and some of its goals. I think people are really craving connection,” said Grant-Domond, who manages the Working Cities Challenge in Connecticut and Vermont.

Teams will have the opportunity to network, as well as focus on specific topics

The summit will include sessions focused on peer networking, adaptive leadership, and how to sustain efforts after the three-year grants that fund Working Places programs expire. Grant-Domond said there will also be opportunities to focus on specific topics, such as resident leadership, supporting families, and workforce development.

Learning from each other’s experiences can help teams save time and reach their goals more efficiently, Dawicki said. For example, convincing local community members to join the team’s leadership can be difficult. Teams often need to shift how they operate to become more inclusive and accessible, as well as create invitations and make sure residents remain engaged.

“Many WCC teams have tried to do this and succeeded, and some have faltered,” she said. “If teams who have experienced this can pass their lessons on, newer teams can build on that instead of starting from scratch.”

Learn more about the Working Places initiative here.

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