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Jerry Goldberg exits Chamber stage right, ready for his next show

BRATTLEBORO—The motto “Working for a town that works” guided Jerry Goldberg through his eight years heading the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

As he prepares to leave the chamber, the town’s professional advocate and stalwart showman reflects on the thrills and spills of leading a chamber of commerce in the “One and Only Brattleboro.”

“I’ll do my part, and the town will do its part,” Goldberg remembers telling himself almost a decade ago.

Goldberg sits in his office at BACC, backed by a red wall whose brightness matches his personality. He is surrounded by memorabilia, much of it from his days in television.

He has enjoyed his time at BACC. Goldberg said he values working with and directly helping people. Although his 24 years at CBS and nine years at World Learning felt rewarding, he felt distanced from the people he served.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Goldberg said of BACC.

Goldberg spent nine years in the communications department at World Learning. Near the end of his tenure, a colleague suggested he apply for the executive director job at BACC. Goldberg admits he never knew the town he glimpsed from the World Learning’s campus on Black Mountain had a chamber of commerce.

He agreed to apply. Knowing zilch about chambers of commerce, Goldberg spent the weekend researching them.

The Naperville (Ill.) Area Chamber of Commerce impressed Goldberg the most. The town, within a stone’s throw of Chicago, turned itself around after falling on hard times, he said: “They found a way to make it work.”

Maybe the BACC could do the same for Brattleboro, he said.

Supporting a healthy business climate has proved challenging in “the forgotten corner” of Vermont that’s called Windham County.

Montpelier often forgets the southern counties, said Goldberg. But, he adds, the privacy allowed the area to “develop our iconoclasm” and meet challenges with “gumption.”

Before moving to Brattleboro, Goldberg lived in New York City and Los Angeles, which he described as the centers of their respective universes.

Brattleboro often considers itself the center of the Windham County universe, but “sometimes it ain’t such a hot universe,” he jokes.

On a serious note, the area has a small population which, in general, is not financially prosperous, said Goldberg of some of the challenges facing the region.

The economic crash of 2007-08 hit the area hard, said Goldberg. Just as businesses started catching their breaths, 2011 clocked the region with a pair of short right hooks in the form of the Brooks House fire and Tropical Storm Irene.

Goldberg, however, credits the sequential hurdles as the catalyst behind the “One and Only Brattleboro” slogan.

The dire economy forced Goldberg to dig deeper into the creative soil than he would had the region lived on easy street.

“It’s [the one and only] part of who we are,” he said. “I’m very very proud of it.”

Goldberg’s eyes water and he chokes on his words when he speaks of founding the newly christened Jerry Goldberg Skills for Success Scholarship, a $500 scholarship to graduating high school students.

Funding for the scholarship endowment comes mainly from contributions by the business community, most of whom are Chamber members.

He said he designed the scholarship to help high school students build job skills. Goldberg hoped to provide kids “a leg up” now, so they won’t need social services later.

“Let’s help [kids] with their dreams,” he said.

Why? At the Fourth of July Parade in 2008, Goldberg had an epiphany.

Traditionally, Goldberg served as drum major and “town cheerleader” for the BACC parade contingent. As the parade traveled along Canal Street, Goldberg spotted a young boy with his family, who struck him as perhaps struggling with low income.

“What’s going to happen to this little kid?” he remembers thinking. He wondered if the young boy would spend a fun day with family, food, and festivities.

Goldberg said he has lived a “privileged life” filled with a supportive family with an upper-middle class income, a good education, and a successful career. No matter what, he said, he had a support network and he knew it.

As he passed, Goldberg wondered if the young boy’s childhood was wonderful. The next thought that Goldberg remembers was, “Maybe it never will be.”

He said this brief moment spurred him to acknowledge a part of Brattleboro he had not noticed. The realization hit hard: “[Some] kids just have no way of making their way,” he said.

Goldberg will continue to review scholarship applications and select awardees. “Nothing has given me more pleasure than seeing these students,” he said. “If I’ve ever done anything this is the work I’ve done.

Goldberg has appreciated collaborating with the other local economic development organizations like Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. and Building a Better Brattleboro.

Each organization over time has built its area of expertise to the betterment of everyone, he said. For “efficiency’s sake,” organizations should focus on what they do best.

“We all don’t have to do everything great,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg spoke warmly about his years collaborating with Andrea Livermore during her time as the executive director of BaBB.

He looks forward to witnessing the evolution of Bennington and Windham counties’ collaborative economic development strategies focused on promoting Southern Vermont. Goldberg is excited about the workforce development strategies being championed by the BDCC.

“I think she’s the right person for the job,” said Goldberg of successor Kate O’Connor.

Goldberg feels O’Connor will successfully meet the region’s economic and business challenges, and will help BACC build its membership and find new sources of revenue.

When asked what he hopes the community will remember about his time as BACC executive director, Goldberg laughed and said, “Ah, the epitaph question.”

Goldberg answered that if he ever penned an autobiography he’d title it, “Save Your Applause Until the End.”

As he prepares to leave BACC, Goldberg said he has heard plenty of applause but that it’s not the end.

“I’m not the pick-up-gardening type,” said Goldberg of life post-BACC.

Instead, Goldberg is launching a new creative venture called Goldberg Creative Marketing.

According to Goldberg, if someone told him 20 years ago he’d move from the bustling Big Apple or sparkly Tinseltown to set roots in a rural community like Brattleboro, “I’d say, ‘You are mad.’”

But, said Goldberg, “You never know who you’re going to fall in love with. And I do [love Brattleboro].”

“I love them [the place and people], so I care,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #231 (Wednesday, November 27, 2013). This story appeared on page A2.

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