DEERFIELD VALLEY- Halifax and Wilmington were among five towns statewide to be approved for assistance through the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Vermont Digital Economy Project this week. The project, created in 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene, aims to help rural towns, their businesses, and their residents, use online sources to construct more resilient communities, and address vulnerabilities of Vermont businesses and communities that are not fully utilizing online tools. Other towns approved for assistance are Royalton, Waterbury, and Bethel.
Wilmington will benefit from help in four self-identified areas of need. The town will address its need for a Wi-Fi hotspot downtown, something town manager Scott Murphy says is simple but important. “We don’t have a good, if any, Wi-Fi hotspot in the downtown,” said Murphy. “ We will be able to set up various connections in the downtown, and create spots where people could stop and use their laptop. It would get people to stop here, spend time and money here, and increase the value of a visit.
“We’re trying to work past this constant economic recovery refrain and help new businesses come to town and create jobs, and have people spend time and money here. This is one of the many things we are doing to achieve that.”
Wilmington will also be provided help in updating the town website by the Snelling Center for Government, a leadership development program based in Vermont.
Wilmington businesses will also be given assistance by the program through workshops and consultations for small businesses. These workshops are designed to help small businesses with their websites and marketing, while tailoring the information to meet each business’s needs.
Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Adam Grinold will act as the middleman, finding businesses that are interested in improving their communication, profitability, and preparedness. Grinold says the workshops will focus on mobile marketing and e-commerce training, and are designed specifically for rural Vermont businesses.
Another of the program’s opportunities is one-to-one assistance for farm and forest businesses, to increase a farm’s ability to be sustainable year-round through digital marketing. The Boyd Family Farm, on East Dover Road, is taking advantage of this program, and according to owner Janet Boyd, her business can benefit by marketing the Vermont brand online.
“We’ve seen the Vermont brand is well recognized, desired, and sought after,” said Boyd,” and we’ve acknowledged just through requests from clients that we needed to make more Vermont products available online. While it’s been in the back of our minds, we were dragging our feet.”
Boyd says the farm has opened a new farmers market and has seen large success in Christmas wreath orders nationwide. With new online marketing strategies, Boyd says the farm will be able to expand the quantity and selection of Vermont products they can make available year-round. Boyd also said that through the Boyd Farm website, they’ll be able to help other area farmers by selling their products through the online portal as well.
“We’re very diversified, and people ask, ‘What do they offer us next season?’ If they can find out online and from home that’s great for everyone. E-commerce is going to make products available to regular guests in different ways.”
Halifax will also be given assistance in developing their website. According to selectboard member Earl Holtz, who helped the town apply for the project, the website has been improved, and played a vital role during Irene, which washed out multiple bridges and destroyed roads leading to the town. “The website has improved since Irene, but we’d like to see it a little more up-to-date and modernized, and more useful from all aspects of the town’s governance.” The experience of Tropical Storm Irene proved the Internet to be an integral part of communication in a town of hills where radio communication is not always possible from one side of town to the other. That is why the town is working with the project to identify a Wi-Fi zone. Holtz says the spot most likely to be chosen will be at Halifax School. Selectboard member Edee Edwards and broadband committee member Jessica Bruno are working with the project to identify ways to help the town become more digitally resilient.
Holtz says there was also interest in town about the forest and farm business assistance programs, as well as the small business workshops, but specific locations have not signed up or been identified yet.