July 7, 2016 For immediate release
Contacts: Adam Grinold 802.257.7731 Bill Colvin 802.442.0713 x1 Wayne Granquist 802.824.4186
UPDATE :: SOUTHERN VERMONT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ZONE
The Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone Committee was authorized by the legislature in May, 2015 and issued a comprehensive report on December 1, 2015. The Committee’s mandate expired on July 1, 2016. This final communication is to update stakeholders, legislators, and interested parties on relevant events and progress since publication of the report.
Our Committee Report contains ten (10) specific recommendations. In our view, the most critical recommendations are to:
(1) Create a Comprehensive Economic Development Zone Strategy (CEDS) covering Bennington and Windham Counties plus the Town of Weston, and
(2) Implement the Southern Vermont Sustainable Recruitment and Marketing Project.
The status of these two recommendations follows; the status of other recommendations is covered later in this update.
Creating a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the Zone
We are pleased to report that this recommendation enjoyed strong support in the legislature. A $50,000 appropriation to the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) will help build capacity to develop a CEDS for the Zone. The Commission is moving forward with this work and will hire an additional person to help with the initiative.
The first step is identifying the critical Bennington region businesses, institutions, individuals, and other resources needed to build and sustain a partnership with the Windham region.
A steering committee of stakeholders is being assembled. They will represent the broad economic interests of the region including the public sector, private interests, non-profits, educational institutions, and community organizations. This committee will serve as the foundation for economic development work in the Bennington region.
We are also pleased that the Brattleboro Development and Credit Corporation (BDCC) received an award of $230,000 of USDA Rural Development funds. The funds will be used to develop regional capacity to support economic development across Windham AND Bennington counties.
The goal of this work and funding is to develop support for a joint application for a U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) planning grant by Spring, 2017, and to implement a Zone CEDS by Spring, 2018.
Implementing the Southern Vermont Sustainable Recruitment and Marketing Project
This high priority recommendation for a $75,000 grant to launch the Southern Vermont Sustainable Recruitment and Marketing Project failed to receive support from the current administration and the Senate, despite valiant efforts by legislators from the Zone.
We regard this project as a critical component of the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone. It requires a capacity to implement what the requested funding would have provided. It needs the cooperation of hundreds of businesses across Southern Vermont, assessing existing marketing, workforce recruitment and business development initiatives and bringing about coordination of new campaigns, collateral preparation and advertising buys. We hope that the Southern Vermont Economy Project recently funded by a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative in Windham and Bennington will help us to identify existing capacity to launch this critical project in the Zone.
Our Report included seven (7) additional substantive recommendations. In our view, they are critical success factors. Here is our sense of status and next steps for each of them:
Improve State interagency cooperation in the Zone: this recommendation would mandate an interagency entity to oversee economic development within the Zone, as opposed to the current silo approach and the practice of ad hoc coordination at the State level. The recommendation makes good organizational sense and needs only executive action by the next administration to be put in place. This is an approach that could be easily replicated in all areas of the State.
Develop a feasible approach to implementing the 2014 telecommunications plan: broadband and cellular are critical infrastructure components. Yet the confusion about their status and implementation continues. The next administration must put this item on a high priority agenda because of its ability to attract and retain businesses and qualified resources.
Create a viable plan and incentives for a mix of housing options in the Zone: this work is underway in the Windham region and will gain support in both Windham and Bennington as the Zone CEDS is developed
Support and grow industry clusters within the Zone: The purpose is to build upon existing success stories like the green building cluster in Windham and efforts in the world of farm to plate. We need to increase emphasis on those clusters.
Enhance the arts and cultural community of southern Vermont: the Vermont Creative Network, supported by the Vermont Arts Council, includes a Southern Vermont Creative Zone that covers the Windham and Bennington regions and offers a practical opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Zone Committee Report and to cooperate in the development of the Southern Vermont CEDS. Work to create model language for an arts and culture component in town plans is underway.
Integrate workforce, education, and internship and career development programs: this initiative is underway in both Windham and Bennington.
Create a private-public partnership to attract investment capital to the Zone: the seeds have been planted. Interesting initiatives are now underway and will be an important part of the CEDS.
Productive actions on additional fronts that focus on improvements and cooperation in the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone are occurring as well. For example, BDCC has initiated a search for a Southern Vermont Economy Director to take responsibility for the USDA-funded Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) involving both Bennington and Windham Counties.
Representatives of the Committee have met and continue to meet with local Select Boards and stakeholders to engage their interest in the Economic Development Zone. Some local governments have even earmarked funds in support of the Zone.
Defining the role of the Committee and/or other groups in continuing the work
Our Committee’s mandate and charter expired on July 1, 2016. However, in our recent meeting, all of us concluded that we have a continued desire to be helpful, supportive, and involved through development and implementation of the Zone CEDS. We agreed that Bill Colvin, Assistant Director of BCRC in the Bennington Region and Adam Grinold, Executive Director of BDCC in the Windham Region, who are the key leaders in developing the CEDS and the Sustainable Recruitment and Marketing Project, will use the Committee members as informal advisers going forward.
Tom Cain – Co-proprietor of Against the Grain, Inc. – Brattleboro
Chris Campany – Executive Director, Windham Regional Commission, Brattleboro
Bill Colvin – Assistant Director, Bennington County Regional Commission
Wayne Granquist – Weston, Vermont, Chair
Adam Grinold – Executive Director, Brattleboro Development and Credit Corp, Brattleboro
Michael Keane – Financial Adviser and Select Board Vice-Chair, Town of Bennington
Dr. Mariko Silver – President, Bennington College, Bennington
Lisa Sullivan – Proprietor, Bartleby’s Books, Wilmington
 If you desire a refresher on the purpose of the Zone and the contents of our report, please follow this link to the report’s full text. http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2641672-Southern-Vermont-Economic-Development-Zone.html