Sonnax Joe Odonnell Machine Operator

VBM Windham County Economic Report: Businesses face short-term and long-term risks

Sonnax makes a variety of parts for the aftermarket automotive industry. The company employs 161 at its Bellows Falls plant. Courtesy photo.


This excerpt is from the Vermont Business Magazine. Read the full article here.


by Bruce Edwards, Vermont Business Magazine “Terrible.” With that one word, Adam Grinold summed up in mid-April the immediate fallout on businesses in Windham County from the Covid-19 pandemic.

What’s more troubling is the near-term and  long-term outlook which could take an even greater toll on businesses across a wide swath of the economy, said Grinold, the executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. and current president of the state’s regional development corporations.

In Windham County, he said employers and business owners are a close-knit group who remain hopeful and resilient.

Grinold said the pandemic has forced some businesses to go into “hibernation.”

But more ominously other businesses have given up basically saying, “We’re not going to make it through this and we’re going to close our doors.”

“Of course the hardest hit sectors were restaurants, retail, those are probably our most vulnerable,” he said.

Early on Brattleboro Development Credit Corp created the Covid-19 Business Resiliency Program to keep businesses informed with accurate, current and actionable information.

It includes a BDCC analysis based on the Brookings Institute model of risk assessment by sector and business size.

“The data is scary,” said Grinold, who presented the findings to the House Commerce Committee on April 16.

As of the first quarter of 2018, there are 1,835 private businesses in the county employing 19,527 people. The overwhelming majority – 1,135 – have four employees or less.

The BDCC analysis showed that 24 percent of those businesses fall into the category of immediate risk, 34 percent are considered at near term risk and 42 percent at  long-term risk.

Near term at-risk businesses include administrative and support services, wholesalers of nondurable goods, specialty trade contractors, building construction and real estate among others.

Companies at long term risk include professional and technical services, educational services, ambulatory health care services, machine manufacturing, hospitals, food and beverage stores and food manufacturing.

To what degree the data plays out remains uncertain. However, Grinold said the data does give economic development officials and policy makers “an understanding this will be in waves” and “there will be near term and  long-term impacts as well.”

The Brattleboro labor market, the county’s largest, recorded a March unemployment rate of 3 percent, up from 2.4 percent in February, according to the state Department of Labor. Statewide the March unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, an increase from 2.4 percent the previous month. Like the rest of the state, the April figures are anticipated to spike higher with many Vermonters filing for unemployment.

Windham County has a population of 42,222 with a median household income of $52,659 (2018), according to the US Census Bureau. The state median household income is $60,076.