Groups urged to continue data drive
by Lauren Harkawik
Nov 10, 2017 | 2332 views | 1 1 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER - The economic dashboard, data collection software spearheaded by the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce as part of the bi-town marketing initiative funded by Dover and Wilmington, was a point of focus at the Dover Selectboard’s meeting on Tuesday.

At the Wilmington Selectboard’s October 18 meeting, during an update about the bi-town marketing effort, Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber Executive Director Sharon Cunningham, Wilmington Economic Development Director Gretchen Havreluk, and chamber board member Mike Chase reported that the initial effort to use the software to aggregate data about local business activity had failed due to a lack of participation on the part of business owners, who were asked to add data to the system weekly.

At the time, Havreluk said “We built up the software and unfortunately we did not have success in getting people who were willing to report in. Our big employers in the valley were more than willing to report in on a weekly basis, but having only those numbers would skew the numbers.”

In the same discussion, Havreluk, Cunningham, and Chase told the Wilmington board there was potential for commission to be earned on the software should another town want to use it, and that the custom-built software would still be available for use here should businesses want to be engaged in it in the future.

During the public comments period at Tuesday’s Dover Selectboard meeting, The Lodge at Mount Snow owner Jim Desrochers pointed to a report about the comments, which he said unfairly characterized the business community.

“I talked to (Mountaineer Inn owner) Ned Wilson today and nobody ever went to show him, train him or anything else like the article stated, how to implement the program,” said Desrochers. “That seems to be a pretty strong sentiment among most businesses in Dover.”

Desrochers said he was disappointed in the lack of outreach on the part of the chamber to garner participation and that he would like the issue to be discussed further at a future meeting. “We have resources in place that can be coordinated provided we get the right people doing it,” said Desrochers. “And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t see that.”

Later in the meeting, during an update about the bi-town effort, Cunningham initially seemed to reiterate what had been expressed at the Wilmington meeting, saying that the committee’s focus was no longer on driving the program.

“As a business owner in the valley, you have to prioritize where your time and energy is going,” said Cunningham. “And if this is falling to the bottom of that, I’m not going to be that upset. That’s one of the reasons we tried to make this system as easy as possible for everyone to participate in. So the project has been shelved, and can be brought back if there is interest from the business community. What that means is we’re not actively pushing on it right now, but the program is still live.”

But when vice chair Vicki Capitani, who recently became the Dover Selectboard’s liaison to the bi-town committee, said she was disappointed that the plug had been pulled on the push without input from the towns, Cunningham said she never said the plug had been pulled on the project. Mount Snow’s Thad Quim­by, who accompanied Cunningham at the meeting, reiterated the software was operational and ready to be used should the business community want to use it.

Desrochers, who Cunningham noted is one of the few business owners who has diligently input information into the software, said he hopes the bi-town committee will try to get more businesses involved in its overall work and will re-energize the data-collection effort.

“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.”

Following the discussion about the dashboard, Cunningham and Chase provided updates about the rest of the bi-town marketing effort, including ad buys to boost web traffic and displays at the Guilford Welcome Center on I-91.
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michael gilberg
November 10, 2017
The problems experienced by the bi-town economic folks seems to be an example of putting the horse before the cart - shouldn't the support of the small business owners for this project been determined before running to expend public funds to develop a system? How else is this same group going to expend (or waste) public funds going forward?

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