The economic dashboard, which debuted last spring, is custom-built software that allows businesses to enter data on a weekly basis. It was initially built to collect data from retail, restaurant, and hotel businesses in the valley. Per Dover Selectboard Vice Chair Vicki Capitani at Tuesday’s meeting, it will soon be expanded to also include real estate data.
In October and November, members of the bi-town committee told the Wilmington and Dover selectboards that the initiative had not been successful due to a lack of business participation. In Dover, heated debate ensued, with inn owner Jim Desrochers saying he felt the business community was being unfairly characterized and that it was the committee’s lack of follow-through in getting participation, not the business community’s lack of interest, that led to the program’s lack of robustness.
Though at the Wilmington and Dover meetings Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber Executive Director Sharon Cunningham said a push to get participation in the initiative had been tabled, at the Dover Selectboard’s December 5 meeting, Neratko said the bi-town committee had decided to reinvigorate the effort.
“There have been two bi-town meetings since then to discuss dashboard program,” said Neratko. “There has been an additional effort to reach out to area businesses, and there are still issues as to whether they will participate or not.”
Neratko said the “carrot” would be that all participating businesses would be entered into a monthly drawing for a free advertisement.
“The stick approach would be businesses who participate in our 1% programs would be required to participate (in the dashboard) if they would like to continue to participate in the 1% program,” said Neratko, noting that it is within the town’s capacity to put restrictions on access to 1% funding.
Board member Sarah Shippee said she was concerned that since service industries are not included in the economic dashboard, their participation could not be required in order to participate in 1% initiatives such as Dover’s DO-IT exterior renovation program.
“The service business can’t help the fact that they can’t participate in this,” said Shippee. “But is that going to create conflict with the businesses who can participate?”
Mount Snow Marketplace and Valley View Saloon owner Adam Levine said he didn’t see the upside to a penalty for not participating in the dashboard. “It sounds to me all you’re going to do is penalize people who have been using 1% funds and getting results with these funds.”
“We want people to populate the fields,” said Capitani, who is the board’s liaison to the bi-town committee. “If our business community cannot provide a very minimal amount of information, then I don’t understand that, and it’s frustrating.”
Capitani said, adding to the frustration, the bi-town committee’s efforts are supported heavily by the chamber - their website hosts the marketing effort and their staff does the legwork for the committee’s work - but the chamber’s board has not actively supported populating the data.
“We talked about asking Sharon to ask the chamber board why they don’t feel it’s important to populate this,” said Capitani. “Even though it’s not a chamber project, it’s twisted up into the chamber and it’s concerning that they aren’t committed to this.”
Board member Joe Mahon said he supports action if it’s going to help the dashboard be successful, if that is what the bi-town committee thinks is prudent.
“If the bi-town committee thinks it’s worthwhile to get that dashboard and get some input into it, if we have to do something to make that happen, I would entertain something to make it happen,” said Mahon. “But if (businesses) are not wanting to do it, then we need to focus on something else and use that energy and money somewhere else instead of trying to make something work that nobody wants to be in.”
Neratko said the next steps for the initiative are reaching out to each business, compiling a spreadsheet of all business contact information, and evaluating the individual selectboards’ feedback on the potential reward and penalty approach to fostering participation.
The Bi-Town Economic Development Committee meets on the first Thursday of each month at 8 am at Wilmington Town Hall.