Adam Grinold, Lyle Jepson, and William Colvin represent the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (brattleborodevelopment.com), Rutland Economic Development Corporation (rutlandeconomy.com), and the Bennington County Regional Commission (bcrcvt.org), respectively.
Originally published in The Commons issue #399 (Wednesday, March 15, 2017).
There is a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail set in the days of the Black Plague. Eric Idle moves through a village calling, “Bring out your dead!” John Cleese appears, a body slung over his shoulder.
As he negotiates offloading the corpse to Idle, the body interrupts: “I’m not dead!”
Cleese replies, “Well, he will be soon.”
We’re used to people declaring our rural economies dead or dying. They tell us that manufacturing is gone. That young people leave. That the economy passed Vermont by.
This does not describe what we see and do every day as regional development corporation executives serving the Rutland, Bennington, and Brattleboro areas.
Yes, we share challenges: too few workers, poor housing choices for working people, and real estate markets where building and redevelopment don’t pencil out.
But for those of us who work at RDCs, our specialty is understanding the tools available to overcome these challenges. We know how to use them. We respond to opportunities. We direct tax-efficient funds to projects and help structure complex deals.
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Our organizations have built robust systems and capacity to do and to support large-scale capital-intensive projects — projects critical to job retention and growth.
Good jobs with good wages are priorities for us, absolutely critical to quality of life for Vermont households and to the health of our communities.
By the same token, a great workforce is everything to the businesses and institutions that make up our regional economies.
Employers in our districts have job openings now, with anticipated retirements over the next 10 years averaging as much as 40 percent at all levels. The state must commit more resources, not fewer, to workforce development through a modernized state bureaucracy that can deliver responsive, modern workforce training and development.
We must also attract new workers, and we can.
Our young professional groups are well organized, energetic, powerfully hopeful. They talk about their peers leaving Brooklyn, Boston, or San Francisco to escape ruinous costs and find a better work-life balance in places like Vermont.
Yes, young workers experience real challenges in terms of housing, comparative income, child care, and student-loan debt. The state’s leadership must help us provide them with solutions in every region, not throw up our hands and dismiss their potential. We need them as much as they need us.
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We can do this. The proposed housing bond is one creative solution being supported by a wide range of organizations, from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
The bond is one tool to tackle the cost of living for working Vermonters head on. The consortium of municipalities working together to make tax-increment financing (TIF) available as a tool to create a path toward more sustainable communities is another.
Southwest Medical Center in Bennington is creating its own innovative solution, buying up homes to rehab and to help in recruiting the medical professionals and staff the hospital needs to be successful.
The medical system has also partnered with other local institutions and with businesses and community leaders to lead an investment that could transform Bennington’s downtown and create exactly the type of environment necessary to attract and retain the workforce it needs.
In Rutland, Castleton University is putting college dorms downtown, using student housing as part of a multi-pronged downtown redevelopment strategy.
In Brattleboro, innovation and entrepreneurial programming is being driven by the Brattleboro Development’s Instig8 program and incubation services.
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We help build success every day by leveraging our regional assets, but we do so with too little investment from the state.
Funds from the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive and the Vermont Training Program must be expanded so companies of every size, in every sector, can benefit. Vermont Economic Progress Council lending is no panacea, but it plays an important role in projects across the state.
These are just some of the tools of our trade. To understand what we build, you need to see our projects and programs, to meet entrepreneurs, interns, trainers, and workers.
You can’t understand economic development by peering into budgets and projections. If you want to know what Vermont is capable of, look around.
The road ahead is not easy or simple, but our job is to create the conditions that support economic opportunity. We love this work, and we believe that we can and must succeed. We invite you all to work with us.
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