Governor Mills, Boston Fed president announce collaborative effort to strengthen rural towns and small cities with $2.7 million in grants

Maine selected as next New England state to participate in community development initiative that aims to empower communities.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills and Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren today announced the Boston Fed and the State of Maine will collaborate to launch the Working Communities Challenge in Maine. The initiative aims to strengthen Maine’s rural towns and smaller cities and is backed in part by $2.7 million in donations.

The challenge supports local teams who work together to improve economic outcomes for all people in Maine’s towns, cities, and rural communities. Successful teams will address economic growth and reduce inequity of opportunity tied to race, ethnicity, and other aspects of identity and background. This unique multi-year grant competition is sponsored by the Boston Fed, the State of Maine, national and local philanthropy, and private sector employers.

Gov. Mills’ administration, under its Department of Economic and Community Development, has committed $300,000 across three years for program implementation and led in recruiting other partners, who have pledged over $2.7 million to support Maine communities.

As part of the initiative, communities across Maine can apply for funds to address local economic issues that affect residents with lower incomes. Applicants are encouraged to focus on increasing economic opportunities, poverty reduction, and better social outcomes for residents.

“We welcome the Reserve Bank’s collaboration in lifting up Maine communities in distress. Working Communities Challenge Maine will build bridges between government agencies, the private sector, and community-based organizations to strengthen Maine’s whole economy,” said Governor Mills. “My Administration will work with federal and local partners to financially support the Working Communities Challenge, every cent of which will go back into Maine communities as they identify and solve the challenges they face.”

“We’ve wanted to expand the Working Communities Challenge to Maine for some time, and we’re thankful to Governor Mills and our funders, whose support has helped get us here,” Rosengren said. “It’s encouraging that we’ve been able to work with partners from around the state and country to get this done, especially during the time of the COVID pandemic. We look forward to seeing how the Northern New England teams work together to help their communities.”

The initiative is built on Boston Fed research that examined why many of New England’s small cities have struggled economically over the past half-century. Boston Fed economists discovered that successful communities had something in common: leaders from private business, public, and nonprofit sectors who collaborated on a shared, long-term vision for their community.

To help make this happen in more places, the Boston Fed partnered with New England states to launch a competition that aimed to support diverse, local, collaborative leadership teams as they tackled complex challenges. The initiative includes funding to accelerate promising local work, with a focus on increased economic opportunities for residents.

The competition began in smaller cities in Massachusetts, then moved to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Last year, it was adapted to fit the needs of rural towns, regions, and smaller cities in northern New England and launched in Vermont.

Gabriela Alcalde, executive director of the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and member of the WCC Maine steering committee, said the foundation supports the initiative in order to advance equity and economic inclusion statewide.

“Bringing the Working Community Challenge to people in Maine’s cities, towns, and rural communities is especially important now, in the face of economic challenges and inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Greg Powell, chairman of the board of trustees for the Harold Alfond Foundation, which is supporting the initiative, said the work has great potential to advance economic opportunity and to spark creativity and teamwork across Maine.

“We think adapting this cross-sector model will offer important lessons for economic and social well-being in different types of communities across the state,” he said.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has backed the challenge in other New England states and is supporting it in Maine, as well.

“At the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we have supported the Working Communities Challenge because it serves as such an important action oriented platform that brings people together to focus on improving the quality of life for Maine families,” said Lola Adedokun, program director for Doris Duke’s Child Well-Being Program.

A steering committee made up of public, private, and nonprofit leaders will structure the competition, which is expected to begin in early 2021. In addition to the Harold Alfond Foundation, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and the Doris Duke Charitable Trusts, financial supporters of the Maine Working Communities Challenge so far include the Maine Community Foundation, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, NeighborWorks America, the Avangrid Foundation, the John T. Gorman Foundation, the Northern Border Regional Commission, Bangor Savings Bank Foundation.

Eligibility criteria for communities, as well as information about the grant application process, can be found on