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Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone wins federal funds

BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and the Bennington County Regional Commission’s application to develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone has been approved and awarded short-term planning funds by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The project is slated to be completed by late spring 2019.

“We are pleased to be updating our original, award-winning CEDS and very excited to be including our Bennington County partners going forward,” Credit Corporation Executive Director Adam Grinold said in a news release. “Vermont’s two southernmost counties share a number of demographic, geographic, and economic characteristics.”

Grinold added the new partnership “will help in developing a shared understanding throughout Southern Vermont about the most urgent issues affecting economic growth. While we anticipate much of the 2019 CEDS will be implemented regionally, we will look for opportunities for new joint ventures.”

A CEDS is a five-year plan designed to bring together the public and private sectors in the creation of an economic roadmap to diversify and strengthen regional economies.

It analyzes the regional economy and serves as a guide for establishing regional goals and objectives, developing and implementing a regional plan of action, and identifying investment priorities and funding sources. It also provides a benchmark by which a regional economy can evaluate opportunities with other regions in the national economy. The plan is reviewed and updated annually.

The 2014 Windham Region S.M.A.R.T. CEDS received a 2016 award for implementation from the International Economic Development Council in 2016. Putting the action plan into effect as well as developing projects listed within the CEDS are done with private and public sector partners from around the region, neighbors in bordering counties, and state and federal agencies.

To date, cross-regional, entrepreneurial, and workforce program developments have been leading BDCC’s staffed implementation efforts.

Highlights include a 2015-16 tri-state partnership project with the state of Vermont and the Economic Development Administration to mitigate the impacts of the tri-state job losses resulting from the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

This project has resulted in the Ecovation Hub, Instig8, and the national release of a best practices for nuclear host communities white paper: “When People and Money Leave (and the Plant Stays) — Lessons Learned from the Closure of the Vermont Yankee Power Station: A Tri-Region Experience.”

The Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone was created by an act of the Vermont Assembly during the 2015 legislative session as a result of continued population and tax receipt decline. It comprises the geographic areas served by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and the Bennington County Industrial Corporation.

Work has been ongoing since 2015 with a Zone Committee report chaired by Wayne Granquist of Weston, the well-attended Southern Vermont Economic Summit last May, and the USDA funded Southern Vermont Economy Project sponsoring training sessions across Windham and Bennington county for economic and workforce development entities.

“In rural economies we almost always find that there are not enough bodies, money or time to sustain the type of effort necessary to change individual economic futures,” said Laura Sibilia, Credit Corporation Director of Regional Economic Development Strategies.

“When we have found past successes in our efforts in Southern Vermont, it has been because of our ability to collaborate regionally with our neighboring businesses, towns, counties, states, and nonprofits, to engage regionally with our state and federal partners,” she added. “The Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone CEDS is the next evolution of regional cooperation and action.”

BDCC and BCRC have a historical track record of working together in the past including a collaboration across Windham and Bennington counties on flood recovery projects.

A joint CEDS will also allow Southern Vermont to consider pursuing EDA Economic Development District Designation. The work will be guided by their respective strategy development boards; Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies in Windham and the Regional Economic Development effort in Bennington.

Both boards are private sector led with intentionally diverse regional participation added from citizens, municipalities and non-profits.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #435 (Wednesday, November 22, 2017). This story appeared on page E2.

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