Gov. Scott’s visit to the town included a walk along Main Street with Readsboro historian Al Scaia, who described the town as it was in its heyday just a few decades ago. Scott was joined by Rep. Laura Sibilia, Rep. John Gannon, Sen. Becca Balint, Sen. Jeanette White, and Sen. Brian Campion. While addressing community members during his visit, Scott noted his amazement that the sleepy, rural village once boasted a railroad terminal, several factories, a high school, a hospital, three grocery stores, five gas stations, several retail stores, two theaters, civic groups, and three marching bands. But Scott said the town, once known as the jewel of southern Vermont, “has the spirit, pride, and capacity” to reverse its economic situation.
Members of the Readsboro Broadband Committee and the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative told the governor how they’ve worked together to bring highspeed internet to Readsboro residents. Access to highspeed internet is seen as key to economic development, particularly in rural areas. Readsboro Broadband Committee member Omar Smith said the committee worked with the state to identify specific areas in Readsboro that don’t have coverage, and with FairPoint and the Stamford-based Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative to begin bringing internet access to those areas. “Our neighbors in Stamford were willing to get up and work on a project that would benefit Readsboro,” Smith said.
Bob Briggs, of the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative, said the nonprofit internet service began when community members in Stamford faced the same situation as Readsboro, and he said the group is looking forward to extending wireless internet coverage into Readsboro. “We’re really excited to be working with Readsboro to expand our cooperative,” Briggs said. “We didn’t name it ‘Stamford Broadband Cooperative’ because we had visions of this happening.”
Jeffrey Austin, of FairPoint, described the company’s efforts with the Readsboro committee as a “public-private partnership,” and used the occasion to announce that FairPoint would extend DSL availability to 56 locations in Readsboro, and 109 locations in neighboring Whitingham. Austin noted that village areas are already well covered, but “it’s that last-mile coverage that’s so challenging.” Gov. Scott praised the efforts of Readsboro residents, volunteers, and local legislators, and said the progress made in Readsboro was an example to others in the state. “On my first day in office, I issued an executive order – a positive executive order, not like some of the ones we’ve seen over the last year or so,” he said, referencing President Trump’s executive orders. “It was about growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting the most vulnerable Vermonters. The challenges we face are real, but we can work our way out of them.”
Stamford Town Clerk Nancy Bushika commented that when her office gets phone calls from people who are considering moving to Stamford, the first things they ask about are schools and internet access. “I believe small schools are why people move to small towns, and if there’s internet, people can move to town and still conduct business. I hope we can continue to keep our small schools in our small towns, because if we lose the schools, we lose the heart of our towns.”
Scott agreed that education and education spending was one of the top challenges for the state, and Vermont currently spends $1.6 billion to educate 86,000 students. But with an aging population and declining workforce sustaining the revenue growth will be difficult. “The numbers that keep me up at night are six, three, one,” he said. “Every day we lose six workers from the workforce. Every day there are three fewer students. And there is one baby born to opiates or addiction every day. Those are the challenges, and the path forward is to focus on the economy, making Vermont more affordable, investing in housing.”
Following his visit to Readsboro, Gov. Scott traveled to Wilmington to meet with the Old School Enrichment Council and hear about their plan to use the former Twin Valley High School building as a community center.
Gov. Scott called the project “exciting,” and asked how much the proposed center was projected to cost. OSEC member John Howe said the committee estimates it will need $2.8 to $3 million for renovations. “There were two studies done, one by Breadloaf and one by Stevens and Associates. We discounted the Stevens study, which included housing. That’s not part of our overall plan. But we did deconstruct the Breadloaf plan, brought in architects and companies to give us bids on certain portions of the plan, and in most cases they came back lower than Breadloaf’s projections.”
Gov. Scott asked OSEC members if they had considered providing a “makers’ space” in the facility. “One recently opened in Burlington,” he said. “It’s like a gym, except instead of exercise equipment there are tools. For $75 a month you can have access to equipment to build all kinds of things.”
OSEC member Meg Streeter said the committee was open to the idea, but hadn’t included it in plans.
Following his visit to the former high school building, Gov. Scott toured the village and met with local leaders at a lunch provided by the Village Roost.