I lead an organization that is working to build a vibrant regional economy. The dry language of economic development does little justice to the way our work touches real people and communities.
Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies is an affiliate of the BDCC that grew from 2008 grassroots efforts, initiated by the BDCC, to reverse the region’s economic decline. In 2011 the SeVEDS Board was formed, and the BDCC established the Post-Vermont-Yankee Task Force which issued the post-VY report. Based on those findings regional partners testified to the Vermont Legislature on VY’s economic impacts and the resources needed to mitigate closure losses. These lessons were incorporated into the creation of our region’s first strategic economic plan, the 2014 Windham Region Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Our CEDS received an award from the International Economic Development Council.
A sample of our activities from just the past few weeks illustrates the range of challenges and triumphs, and what our daily work entails:
We brought 50 people together at our housing summit.
We helped a startup identify a location for their new facility.
Our Southern Vermont Young Professionals partnered with BF3F on a February “Night Out” event.
Our workforce team met with 100 employees impacted by a recent round of layoffs to create a rapid response plan.
We made two micro entrepreneur loans.
We continued work with several firms to plan and implement expansion projects.
College students met at five college career fairs.
We collected 400 signatures to get on Town Meeting warnings (yes, January was a very cold time to do this!).
Wilmington Works partnered with us to deliver a small business succession planning workshop.
That’s typical. We produce great programs, and great results continuously ... and it’s never enough. Our programs are all a means to an end, a way to reach a set of clear objectives to improve the regional economy. We are inventing best practices for innovative rural regional economic development every day, because we looked around for a manual but couldn’t find one.
Since 2014 BDCC has invested over $600,000 of its own private sector resources and secured millions in additional funding to implement the SeVEDS strategic priorities. We stay focused by sticking to our strategies, being efficient and outcome-driven, and working hard to build buy-in and understanding, expecting the most, and knowing it’s never enough.
And sometimes we need to take risks – remember, there is no rural economic development guidebook! We innovate, which means operating on research, discernment and courage when we have to operate without precedent. We have also taken risks to find innovative ways to grow the economy – whether getting into business “incubators” decades before startups were a hot topic or helping realign workforce efforts here so we can aggressively foster a new generation of students and working Vermonters. We go where our economy needs help and then find resources to do the work, rather than chasing trends.
Why do we do this work? It’s personal. This is where we live. All of our staff are committed to this region, many of us grew up here, half are under 40 and building their own lives here. It’s serious. In 2016 private sector wages dropped $50 million with the VY closure, companies struggling to hire as labor force shrinks, and a shrinking and aging population.It can change. That sounds bold but yes, we can make a difference if we are strategic, entrepreneurial, and work together. Before the VY closure our focus on job and wage growth was having discernible impact. We are on track to close that gap by replacing lost jobs and earnings by growing businesses and employment.
Here’s what I can promise you; we will always look forward and take on the next challenge in order to build a vibrant regional economy. But to do this we need your support so we can continue to act boldly, act strategically, and act regionally.