When a Lawrence nonprofit wanted to encourage companies to improve job opportunities for the city’s struggling residents, it went to an unlikely place for help — the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Boston Fed president Eric S. Rosengren came to a breakfast in Lawrence, chatted up business leaders, and toured a local manufacturing company, said Jessica Andors, the executive director of Lawrence Community Works.

“It’s pretty amazing that a Federal Reserve Bank is doing something like that,” she said. “They’re pretty high up and focused on policy issues.”

Rosengren and the Boston Fed embarked on an unusual initiative last year, bringing their economic expertise to the main streets of some of the state’s more distressed communities.


Boston Fed officials reviewed grant applications submitted for its Working Cities Challenge, the first such initiative by any Federal Reserve bank, and selected winners of $1.8 million to fund ideas to boost urban economies in Massachusetts.

It chose plans to help six cities, including Lawrence, aiming to transform neighborhoods by encouraging local officials to work more creatively with businesses and nonprofits. The initiative has also provided grants to Fitchburg, Holyoke, Chelsea, Somerville, and Salem.

Boston Fed officials hope to expand the competitive grant program throughout New England and provide a model for the nation’s 11 other Federal Reserve banks.

“Our desire is to have a more direct impact, real impact on these cities,” Rosengren has said about the program.

The effort grew out of research by a team of Boston Fed economists who found the key to keeping local economies afloat after manufacturing plants shut down was good leadership and collaboration among businesses, government, nonprofits, and community groups.

Lawrence, awarded $700,000 spread over three years, will use the money to reach parents of school-age children and provide resources to help them gain economic stability, including English-as-a-second-language classes, financial literacy courses, and job training, Andors said.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.