All those reasons and so many more are what make it important for Wilmington and Dover to keep the bitown economic development process alive.
Currently, the two towns are at a crossroads. The effort has lost some momentum, and in many ways the two towns have gone off in different directions. It’s not really the fault of any one thing, or one person. No one could have predicted four years ago some of the things that have happened. When the bitown committee was formed and the Mullin Report developed, local communities had yet to weather the bottom falling out of the national economy, Tropical Storm Irene, and a snowless winter. All of those things, plus other events, have put a strain on the local economic infrastructure and on the big-picture process of the bitown effort.
That’s why it’s important to keep the process alive and invigorated. Given all that the valley has been through over the past couple of years, it’s critical now more than ever to buy into the bitown process, and even expand it if possible. The goals can certainly be changed and tweaked, but the process is the big thing. Dover and Wilmington, and other towns in the valley, should not be islands.
History shows that many times in the past 100 years towns in the valley have turned inward. A century ago the valley was an industrial powerhouse, fueled by the timber resources of the upper Deerfield River. Manufacturing plants and powerhouses dotted the landscape, supplied by the Hoot, Toot, and Whistle railroad and fueled by the power of the river. Along with the industrial revolution came tourism, although it was different than what we see today.
But over time, all of that left, and the leaders of the valley had no forum to find a way to replace that industry. Little effort was done to replace the manufacturing of the day with a new economy. As jobs went south, literally, those left behind turned to the agrarian past or clung to seasonal tourism. There was no concerted, focused effort to replace the manufacturing jobs that left.
Wilmington and Dover should not make the same mistake and take a passive attitude toward economic development. The communities are stronger, economically, together than apart. They are also part of a greater economy, and by working together they can call more attention to the needs of the valley than working apart.
That’s where the position of the bitown planner becomes so important. The towns shouldn’t wait for somebody else to pick up the slack. As chamber of commerce director Adam Grinold told the Wilmington selectboard last week, the bitown planner’s salary can be made back over and over again with grants and other revenue streams.
We urge Dover and Wilmington officials to not pull the plug on a bitown planner or the larger bitown process. The planner position needs to be reinvigorated. The towns need someone at 30,000 feet, looking at the big picture. We understand the difficulty of having someone in that role when there’s so much to do at ground level. But sometimes we forget to see the forest for the trees.
Now more than ever, the valley needs to look out and chart a course for the future, instead of just reacting to what the future may bring.