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New Technical Assistance Resources: If You Are Not Shovel Ready, Here’s How to Start the Process
Monday, October 2, 2023

In September, the White House released a “Fact Sheet” addressing technical resources to assist communities to unlock resources needed to take advantage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and other infrastructure funding opportunities.  

It is a well-known fact that accessing funds under the IIJA, and the IRA can be a complex and time-consuming process. It’s also well-known that a public owner must pull together project documentation that meets the requirements for funding. Those requirements vary significantly depending on the type of project, the amount of funding needed and whether the private sector is being considered as a partner. Evaluating not only the technical aspects but the legal and financing structures can be challenging and often these processes need to occur at the same time. Technical assistance is just that, expertise, and funding to assist with the creation of an infrastructure project.

Community Networks and State Funding

Accessing technical assistance resources can be key to getting a project off the ground, shovel ready and able to access funding under a variety of programs. The Fact Sheet provides good information on how to identify and access community networks and state funding. Many states, including Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island are providing technical assistance models. These states assist with grant navigation, writing and review, technical support, resource sharing, and regional collaboration and support. Some of these states also provide project implementation support, reporting assistance, and financing through infrastructure technical assistance corporations. Access to expertise and financial assistance in developing projects is critical for any public owner who needs federal infrastructure funds and to partner with the private sector. Without a viable project, access to funds and private sector support is difficult, if not impossible. Taking advantage of technical assistance programs can assist both the public and private sector in creating a foundation for a public private partnership. Technical assistance can also help a public sector owner identify the right financing structure which could include debt, equity, tax-exempt bonds and possibly a private partner. Seeking technical assistance can benefit the public sector owner by making the project attractive to the public sector and by meeting the requirements to access federal and state funding.

Impact Investors, Philanthropic and other Community Partners

The Fact Sheet also highlights the often-overlooked impact investing and philanthropic communities. Many of these organizations have emerged and are committed to support state and local communities to bring infrastructure projects forward. These community-based partners have committed new resources to assist communities to access federal infrastructure funding, among other assistance. We preview some of the assistance being offered below.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, Emerson Collective, Ballmer Group, Ford Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. These entities have launched the Local Infrastructure Hub, a national program to assist cities and towns to access federal infrastructure funds. The Hub’s $55 million commitment is being delivered in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and Results for America. Over 1,100 local governments have received assistance from the hub.

Accelerator for America (AFA) is supporting more than 40 communities with in-kind support for strategic planning/predevelopment, grant writing, workforce development initiatives, peer learning cohorts, and project delivery innovation.  Predevelopment planning is critical to project success. AFA is facilitating partnerships with the private sector, philanthropic partners, and the government to help local leaders leverage federal funding. AFA supported cities have won millions in DOT discretionary grants, many obtained through the DOT’s Thriving Communities Program.

The Catalyze Registry (Registry) is a new philanthropic registry and matchmaking service led by What Works Plus funder collaborative and America Achieves, the Registry provides information to potential funders regarding federally funded place-based coalitions. According to the Fact Sheet, national funders have accessed the registry seeking around $85 million in philanthropy contributions to maximize existing funding. This is the third leg of the stool in terms of where funds can be found when federal, state and the public sector owner’s financial resources do not cover a project’s financial needs. This only works if the public sector owner has a well developed technical, financial structure and legal plan for the project.

The State Funded Readiness Project (SFRP), a collaborative program between the U.S. Climate Alliance and Hua Nani Partners provides no-cost rapid response technical assistance to leverage federal investments in connection with climate priorities and greenhouse gas emissions. The SSRP provides technical support services that include grant writing and sector expertise including expertise needed to fill gaps in state expertise and capacity that hinders the ability to apply for federal funding. SFRP has assisted 11 states in submitting 17 federal grants targeting more than $980 million in funding.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the DOT to coordinate Reconnection Communities technical assistance efforts focusing on better mobility options, community revitalization, equitable development, and access to more economic opportunities.

Communities First Infrastructure Alliance, supported by numerous national and community foundations, is fostering greater coordination among capacity builders, technical assistance providers and others to coordinate Regional Convenings to elevate emerging priorities, champion best practices, and encourage accountability standards that address communities impacted by underinvestment.

The Milken Institute (MI) is developing a pipeline of shovel-worthy community infrastructure projects, focused on under-served, rural, urban, tribal, and environmental justice. MI’s Community Infrastructure Center (CIC) connects community project sponsors to federal and non-federal funding sources and project readiness tools designed to develop investment ready projects. The CICis reported to have 250 communities receiving assistance and 27 organizations building a portfolio of 2500 plus climate and rural equity projects through the CIC’s dedicated channels.

Opportunities Are Everywhere 

For those willing to pull threads and search for needles in the right haystacks, there are answers to help make both shovel-worthy and shovel-ready projects feasible and financeable. It’s a puzzle of sorts, but if one starts with the project, identifies funding sources and then looks for federal, state, or private sector impact investors or for philanthropic support, there are resources.

This process becomes more efficient with a planning process that considers technical, financial, and legal strategies as an owner works to design and develop a shovel-worthy project. Many of the federal government programs require specific legal structures in order access grants and loans. Use of tax-exempt bonds also requires advance planning. Looking at challenges for fully funding social infrastructure projects so they are sustainable will likely require looking for impact investors or grants from philanthropic funds. This is particularly true for broadband infrastructure being developed for small remote communities. Challenges often arise when the initial planning process focuses on technical parts of a project and does not consider with any detail the nuances involved in financing the project and ensuring that the legal structure works with the funding sources available. It’s a puzzle that can be solved if you are willing to put all the pieces on the table at the same time and retain experienced advisors to assist.

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