One state’s grant management breakthrough
With the One Stop portal, organizations in Massachusetts can apply for economic development grants across three agencies, and grant administrators can more easily manage programs and ensure regional equity.
Massachusetts is now in its third year of offering a single web-based application through which organizations can apply for multiple grants for economic development projects.
When the month-long submission period opens for this year on May 1, applicants will be able to use the Community One Stop for Growth portal to apply for 12 programs offered by three agencies: the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and MassDevelopment. They complete sections of the application based on where their project is according to the state’s Development Continuum, a framework for the life cycle of a community development project. Officials from the agencies collaboratively review applications during the summer and notify applicants of their decision in the fall.
“Everybody looks at the application and says, ‘Is this a good fit here? Is this a good fit there?’ and then we determine the best place to put them,” said Ashley Stolba, undersecretary of community development at EOHED. “We’re super oversubscribed, so we can’t fund all of the applications, but this does allow us to fund more applications.”
That’s because the agencies can review them together to determine areas of need that have fewer applications and make referrals to departments that aren’t participating, such as Energy and Environment or Transportation.
The One Stop portal’s technology is powered by Agate Software’s IntelliGrants, off-the-shelf, centralized grant workflow management software. It lets officials see grant data in one place where they can review and report on it throughout the grants’ life spans. Additionally, the web-based system is customizable so agencies can tweak it based on their needs.
Other state entities using IntelliGrants include the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. According to the latter, the system uses role-based access to control the actions users can perform.
In Massachusetts, funding is available for projects that will help prepare communities for growth, such as the creation of a master plan or housing production plan, and for projects that are farther along, such as renovations to blighted properties and public infrastructure improvements.
The new process has increased equity, Stolba said, because the agencies use a map when they review the applications. “We want to be sure that we hit every region, and we look at other statistics like Gateway Cities [and] rural and small towns,” she added.
The state defines Gateway Cities as “midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies.” Since One Stop’s launch, such cities have received grants totaling $77.7 million, while rural and small towns have gotten $60.9 million.
“I think the impact on small towns just really can’t be overemphasized or emphasized enough because the goal of all this was to make our grants accessible to everybody,” Stolba said.
Before the application period opens, potential applicants may submit an expression of interest, “a super easy form saying, ‘What do you want to do? What’s your priority projects? What are you thinking?’” Stolba said. “Then we at a staff level, across MassDevelopment, EOHED and DHCD, we work with them and we try to figure out how to improve their application for when they apply.”
That interdepartmental collaboration has been a big benefit to the state, Stolba said. “We now have all these government officials that are reviewing these applications and know what’s going on in all of our municipalities,” she said.
Before One Stop, applicants had to answer 300-plus questions for each application. “We … wanted to reduce redundancy and make it as streamlined as possible,” Stolba said, noting that now there are 87 questions—a 71% reduction—and a single application. “The goal was really to make it more efficient and only asking the necessary questions.”
The portal has made reporting easier for the state, too, because all the data is in one place. For instance, a map shows how funding is spread regionally and how much is going toward housing vs. mixed-use development vs. general economic development. “That part has been amazing,” Stolba said. “The reporting is much easier because it’s all in one place, and it’s all managed by one central office.”
The effort to create One Stop dates to 2019, when municipalities and stakeholders told the Economic Development Planning Council that state grant programs were hard to access because each required different timelines, forms and application processes, some of which were on paper and needed to be faxed in.
“The amount of staff time that required was huge, because you had to have a staff person monitoring all the applications throughout the year,” Stolba said. “This just made it so much simpler to be able to do in one application, and was one really one point of contact, which is our office.”
Although she said she doesn’t think putting all grant opportunities into One Stop is an option, the approach could be replicated in other areas for different kinds of programs.
Other companies offer grants management assistance. For instance, the California Department of Housing and Community Development uses cloud-based eCivis, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services uses an Electronic Grants Administration and Management System.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.