April 02, 2014BERLIN — Governor and Executive Council voted to approve an up-to-$12,000 federal Community Block Development feasibility study grant, available through the Community Development Finance Authority, for the City of Berlin on Wednesday, March 26.
The grant, to be completed by June 30, 2015, will be sub-granted to WREN (Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network) to pay for a consultant to undertake market study to determine whether the City and its surrounding communities could support a food cooperative in Berlin, according to materials provided to the five executive councilors.
The study will also suggest suitable site locations, estimate its sales potential and provide a clear outline of what would be needed to move this project from "idea stage to steps required for its development."
The positive benefits that could be derived include: creating 15 to 30 part- and full-time jobs; helping to revitalize the City's downtown; strengthening and diversifying the local economy and opportunities for local farmers, bakers, and food producers to market their products year-round.
Following a set of required public hearings held on Oct. 21, 2013, the City Council authorized the City Manager to apply for such a CBDG feasibility grant and to execute any documents necessary to carry it out.
The grant application notes that Shaw's Supermarket in Gorham was closed a few years ago and that "there are now only two choices for grocery items: Walmart and a small IGA. To help address the food shortage, a local nonprofit, WREN, operates a summer Farmers Market in downtown. The successful summer market led community leaders and WREN to develop the idea of a food cooperative.
"A viable food cooperative could create between 15-30 full time and full time equivalent jobs," the application also notes. The City's population is 54 percent low- and moderate-income, has a high unemployment rate, and is located more than 35 miles from other active economic centers.
WREN must hold at least one public community meeting to "explain the idea of a food cooperative, answer questions and gauge support from area residents.'
The budget will include $200 for advertising, leaving $11,800 for consultant fees.
The City also received good news on March 19: the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded the Berlin Housing Authority $58,078 in capital funds as part of a $4.7 million award to various housing authorities in New Hampshire, designed to help preserve public housing. These monies are earmarked for such improvements as replacing roofs or making energy-efficient upgrades to replace old plumbing and electrical systems.