The meeting was organized by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and included representatives from the USDA, Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office, BDCC, and the Windham Regional Commission. They spoke about programs they offer or have access to, how to find money for projects, and a number of other programs designed to help spur the economy. It was a smörgåsbord of opportunity.
And just about no one showed up.
While not necessarily frustrating for organizers, as they admitted it was a first attempt at a sustained effort to get the word out, it is interesting that few local officials and business people managed to attend the meeting. Maybe it was bad timing or maybe more effort to get the word out is required.
Whatever the reasons, we hope the lack of turnout isn’t indicative of a disinterest toward economic development around the area. Yes, it’s a phrase that has different meaning to different people, but however it’s defined economic development need to stay front and center. Whether it’s in the form of infrastructure improvement, low-interest loans for building upgrades, marketing dollars or other programs, there needs to be a continuing effort to improve the local economy.
There are a quite a few people and organizations working hard to make things happen with the local economy in Windham and Bennington counties. We can certainly acknowledge that and give credit where credit is due. Wilmington and Dover both have staff on the town payroll working on economic development, the bi-town committee continues to work on marketing and other project, and BDCC and other regional and state organizations are working on a larger scale. It’s all good, and it all benefits the region in some way or another.
Aside from finding out what’s currently available, we think it’s important not to lose sight of the recent past. It was a decade ago that marked a watershed year for economic development in the valley. In 2007, during a particularly difficult winter with little snow and associated recreational business, many in the region realized something more needed to be done to help stimulate the local economy. Two things in particular stand out. The first was the Town Meeting approval by Dover voters to implement the 1% local option tax. That move was the genesis for the Dover Economic Development Committee and eventually the creation of an economic development department. The second thing to take place that year was the commission and eventual release of the Mullin Report. That document, written by UMass professor John Mullin and his team, identified the current state of the the valley’s economy, and laid out road maps to reverse negative trends and accelerate positive ones. There is much in that report that is still valid today.
Another watershed period was the time following Tropical Storm Irene. Along with the rebuild came a long-term recovery plan for the town of Wilmington that was, in many ways, another road map similar to the Mullin Report. It laid out a number of steps for the town and surrounding community to work on to help recover from Irene’s flooding, and to prepare for any future natural disasters. Again there were a number of issues identified that were critical to the long-term economic health of Wilmington and the valley. That plan was finalized five years ago, in May 2012, and much of what it lays out is still being worked on today.
Those plans lay out much of the framework for the development efforts that have taken place during the past decade. But there’s plenty more to be done. That’s the thinking behind last week’s meeting and the future forums. There is assistance out there for local communities and businesses, and lots of it.
Efforts to stimulate and grow the local economy need to be ongoing. They also need to be on the top of every local board’s agenda. And if they can get some help along the way, even better.
Economic development isn’t always glamorous or quick. It takes steady, sustained effort to be successful. But that effort is necessary and vital to the long term viability of our communities.