Maximizing employment in pandemic’s aftermath; Boston Fed part of System-wide effort
Connecticut Working Cities team joins nationwide ‘Reinventing Our Communities’ program
Part of the Federal Reserve’s mandate is to “maximize employment,” which is a complex task in the wake of a pandemic. But a nationwide Federal Reserve System program that focuses on equitable workforce recovery is taking it on. And a team supported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is joining the initiative for the first time.
The East Hartford team in the Boston Fed’s signature community development initiative, the Working Cities Challenge, is now part of the Reinventing Our Communities Cohort Program.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia launched the initiative in 2020 and expanded it in 2022 to 11 communities across 10 states, now including Connecticut. Like the Working Cities Challenge, the ROC Cohort program focuses on smaller cities and communities. This year, the cohort was open to rural areas and cities with 250,000 or fewer residents.
Throughout the yearlong program, teams from each community will participate in racial equity and workforce training workshops, discussions with teams from each community, and coaching sessions to prepare them to launch local workforce equity plans.
“This program is amazing in that it directly aligns with the Federal Reserve’s mandate to maximize employment,” said Keenen Grooms, a senior community development analyst at the Boston Fed and a liaison to the ROC Cohort Program.
Program to focus on residents without college degrees
Residents and local leaders in East Hartford began partnering with the Boston Fed in 2016 through the Working Cities Challenge, an initiative that harnesses collaborative leadership to promote economic development in smaller, post-industrial cities.
East Hartford’s work with the ROC Cohort Program also pulls in the Boston Fed’s Strategic Engagement Team. As part of that team, Grooms is leading the Bank’s Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan program, called REMAP. The program trains Massachusetts city governments to develop community action plans that improve racial equity through workforce development, increasing affordable housing, and similar efforts.
“In East Hartford, we're really focusing on Black and brown community members without college degrees, who historically have had lower employment levels,” Grooms said. “As we work to break down some of those barriers, we hope to see the employment levels within that region rise.”
The Boston Fed’s Jessica Grant-Domond manages the Working Cities Challenge in Connecticut, and she’s a ROC program liaison with Grooms. She said East Hartford CONNects – the local Working Cities team (which will soon be renamed East Hartford Works, as it is now a municipal department) – has already laid a strong foundation for cohort program participants. For example, she said, the team has established a group of community leaders focused on workforce development and open to conversations on racial equity.
“East Hartford is doing a lot,” Grant-Domond said. “They’ve created the Professional Skills Academy to help community members seeking employment, and they have partners focused on helping residents who are learning English. They also have partners who work with the Chamber of Commerce and support small businesses of color.”
Residents can struggle with language barriers and lack of internet access
The cohort program team includes Amy Peltier, who directs East Hartford CONNects. She’s joined on the team by representatives from the CT Center for Advanced Technology, the state Department of Labor, East Hartford Adult Education, Goodwin University, the East Hartford Public Library, and local government.
East Hartford is home to several large aerospace companies and smaller-scale manufacturers, but some residents struggle to find work, Peltier said during a virtual orientation in April. Language barriers and a lack of access to reliable internet can pose significant challenges for some job seekers, she added, and it’s often unclear how employers are evaluating job applications.
Peltier said that the team wants to help unemployed and underemployed residents find quality jobs at good wages, and it also works with employers who are hiring.
“It's a mutually beneficial system,” she said. “And it's contributing to the economy overall.”
E. Hartford team looks to learn, share what it’s learned
Grooms said by joining the cohort program, the East Hartford team can share what it’s learned from participating in the Working Cities Challenge, while benefiting from the experiences of communities nationwide. East Hartford’s team will meet regularly through early 2023 with communities from California, Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
“Many of the workforce challenges these communities face are very similar to the ones we’re seeing in New England,” Grooms said. “Hearing from them about what’s worked and what hasn’t helps us develop best practices for communities in our own region.”