DOVER - At the Dover Selectboard’s November 21 meeting, economic development director Steve Neratko said that, per a discussion at a recent bi-town economic development meeting, there will be another push to reenergize a faltering data collection initiative led by the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The economic dashboard, as it’s called, is custom software that was commissioned by the chamber as part of a bi-town marketing effort shared by Wilmington and Dover. The software was meant to be a metric by which the impact of a digital marketing push would be measured. The intention was to have local inn owners, restaurateurs, and shop owners input data about their sales on a weekly basis.
At recent selectboard meetings in Wilmington and Dover, representatives from the bi-town committee said the initiative had been unsuccessful due to a lack of participation from local business owners. At the Dover Selectboard’s November 7 meeting, inn owner Jim Desrochers said he felt the business community was being unfairly characterized, saying that he didn’t think the chamber had put enough effort into garnering participation.
At the time, Desrochers said, “I can bring in 15 people who said they were told about it but there was no follow-up,” said Desrochers. “It was a dropped ball by everybody. It’s a brilliant idea. But the way you went about it was really lax, and the amount of money spent is really significant.”
At the same meeting, chamber executive director Sharon Cunningham said the initiative had been tabled, but when vice chair Vicki Capitani said she was disappointed the plug had been pulled, Cunningham said it hadn’t been. The discussion about the issue concluded without a definitive plan for moving forward, with Desrochers urging the chamber to reenergize the effort.
At the Dover Selectboard’s November 21 meeting, Capitani said she had concerns about funds continuing to go to the bi-town effort, given the failure of the software. In response, Neratko said that at a recent bi-town meeting, the group had decided to give a push toward garnering participation another go.
“I am going to do the marketing,” said Neratko. “We are going to have an event, and have everyone who is interested come to the event and we’ll show them how to use it. Then if there are others who can’t make it, we will meet them separately. We will try to go out one more time and market it, see if we can get people interested, and if they are, we will continue with it. If they aren’t, we will revisit (the issue).”
Desrochers said he doubted that people would attend a meeting, and suggested that appointments should be made with each business owner. “You don’t cold call a doctor,” said Desrochers. “You make an appointment.”
Board member Joe Mahon said that when the bi-town effort was initiated, the dashboard was sold as a major component of its success. “They sold us on the whole package, and that package is now not the same package, and we’re not going to get what we need to move forward,” said Mahon. “We need a timeline for when there are going to be results.”
Capitani agreed, and said that given the confusion around how the effort had been tabled, she wanted more frequent progress updates from the chamber and had concerns about paying a $16,500 invoice to the chamber.
“The $16,500 is funds that have already been expended,” said Neratko. “As part of the funds that were applied to this project, there was $40,000 for this year. They’ve spent $16,500 because they had to get things rolling. They’ve spent that, so that’s what they asked for to be reimbursed. The rest they would ask for at a future date if needed.”
Capitani noted that the invoice was not detailed and asked Neratko if he had seen detailed information about the expenditures. He said he had.
“Going forward we do want to see results and know where things are going before more money leaves this town for the bi-town marketing,” said Capitani. “I would like to see them check in more regularly and we’d like real information and real updates at least quarterly. It seems like a lot of money and it’s not really what we signed on for.”
Neratko said he would pass along the request and would get detailed information about future expenditures for the bi-town effort.