WEST DUMMERSTON—A small group of community members gathered around a folding table in the Dummerston Community Center to hear staff members from Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) make their case for funding their economic development efforts.
Staff are in the early days of hosting information sessions across Windham County. The Feb. 12 meeting was the third of an anticipated eight that the organization has planned.
This is the first year the BDCC has held these pre-Town Meeting sessions. These sessions serve as a time for community members to ask questions and for staff to discuss programs.
At the core of the meeting: explaining to residents why the BDCC is requesting $3 per resident from towns in the region at Annual Town Meeting in March.
For Dummerston, the requested amount will be $5,592.
BDCC and its partner organization Southern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) have made the annual request from municipalities for several years.
According to staff members Sarah Lang and Alexander Beck, the money helps fill in the gaps left by other sources of funding from the federal government, state government, or grants.
The municipal monies “are unencumbered” and can be used more freely than other funding sources, explained Beck, BDCC’s workforce and education specialist. This allows BDCC and SeVEDS to use the monies in places that other funding can’t go, he said.
For example, the municipal funds have paid for such things as transportation during workforce education programs with area high school students. The annual Career Expo event and Young Professionals peer-networking group also benefit from the funds. Municipal money has also paid for lunches during workforce development trainings.
Government funding rarely pays for transportation or feeding program participants, Beck said. But for the high school students participating in a career development workshop, transportation and food are key to the program’s success.
Lang, the organization’s southern Vermont economy project manager, said that Dummerston voters have approved the organization’s municipal ask of $3 per person for at least the past two years.
Last year, she said, one Dummerston resident asked why BDCC was asking for $3 per person when most human-service organizations seeking municipal funding had asked for less.
“One, we’re not a social service organization,” Lang said. “And a lot of those organizations get way more state and federal funding than we do.”
Each town is different, she added. Some approve the full request, while others — like Brattleboro in some recent years — approve a partial amount.
Last year, 13 of the 27 towns the organization serves authorized approximately $89,000. Those towns represent approximately 75 percent of the residents in the Windham region.
A regional organization
According to Lang and Beck, BDCC is one of 12 regional development organizations statewide. It tends to provide direct services, such as rental space for businesses in the Cotton Mill and the BDCC Business Park, located in the former Book Press plant at 22 Browne Court.
SeVEDS is more of a think tank that identifies regional trends and shapes programming, said Lang and Beck.
They pointed to examples of economic development efforts the BDCC and SeVEDS had helped with in Dummerston. These included Hermit Thrush Brewery of Brattleboro buying a building owned by Leader Beverage to expand its beer-making capacity, and Vermont Photonic buying the former Southeast Regional Library property on Route 5.
Vermont Photonic started as a BDCC tenant in the Book Press building, where the nonprofit helped incubate the company during its early years. The BDCC then helped it expand. The building purchase in Dummerston, said Lang and Beck, was significant because it took the building — most recently owned by the nonprofit Southeast Vermont Learning Collaborative and thus exempt from property taxes — and put it back on the town’s Grand List.
Lang acknowledged that some of the assistance the town specifically receives from the organization is hard to measure. For example, the organization helps with career development opportunities at Brattleboro Union High School. Some of those students live in Dummerston.
The BDCC helped facilitate Long Falls Paperboard’s purchase of the former Neenah Paper, Inc., in Brattleboro. Some of the employees whokept their jobs probably live in Dummerston, Beck and Lang said, but the BDCC hasn’t tracked how many.
The municipality has also participated in multiple workshops and trainings sponsored by BDCC and SeVEDS.
“We are a regional organization, and we do focus on the regional economy,” Lang said. “A lot of the impact you aren’t going to see for a while, and I think that is true not only in time but in space — it’s difficult to talk about the very specific impacts that are happening in Dummerston.”
Beck added that SeVEDS uses the money on regional issues or the resources that communities share across town lines.
“The high school career programs, for example — we share kids and we share people across these boundaries. We share schools. And so a lot of what SeVEDS has supported in the last few years has been the workforce development programs,” Beck said.
Lang said that one of the benefits of the Young Professionals’ group is that it helps members build ties to the community. Such connections not only can help the individuals but also can serve as a selling point, helping the state attract more young people and families, Lang added.
“A big thing is either attracting people to move here or keeping them here once they are here,” Lang said. “Having ties to the community is one of those things that keep you here.”
During the information session, one community member unfamiliar with the BDCC asked questions about how the organization operated and what it did.
A second audience member had attended the meeting because he had a business idea and was hoping the agency’s staff could help him with the next steps. Lang and Beck responded with with information on the organizations’ entrepreneurship programs.
“The micro-entrepreneur loan program isn’t going to help anyone in Dummerston unless they sign up for it,” Beck said. “As with any service organization, you need to ask us for help, too.”