The grant funds will be managed by the Windham and Bennington regional commissions, but other players in the project include Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), chambers of commerce, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Brattleboro and Bennington downtown organizations, and municipalities.
The grant will fund three positions dedicated to recovery and economic development, including two recovery officers. One recovery officer will be based in Wilmington, according to BDCC Economic Development Project Director Laura Sibilia. A second recovery officer will be based in Brattleboro. Sibilia says the recovery officer based in Wilmington will generally be responsible for Wilmington and Bennington counties, while the Brattleboro-based recovery officer will cover the rest of Windham County.
The third position funded under the grant is a regional marketing coordinator. The regional marketing coordinator will also be located in Wilmington, with office space at the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“That person’s job won’t be to conduct a marketing campaign,” says Sibilia. “The job is to create a better network to leverage existing marketing efforts. The idea is to collaborate to create more effective, longer, bigger marketing campaigns. There’s also some ‘branding’ pieces.”
Bill Colvin, former Wilmington Economic Development Consultant, now the director of sustainable community development for the Bennington County Regional Commission, says the marketing initiative also includes $40,000 for marketing through the Vermont Department of Marketing and Tourism for a cooperative marketing campaign. The regional marketing coordinator will work with the Bennington, Brattleboro, Mount Snow Valley, and Manchester chambers of commerce.
For local businesses, the EDA grant will mean access to more assistance. Colvin says the flood recovery officers funded under the grant will be similar to the emergency business assistance coordinator (EBAC) position funded by Dover in response to Irene. “A more formalized, extended EBAC,” he says. “There will probably be a little less direct outreach, and more intake and availability.”
“We saw what a difference having access to resources can make just with the EBAC,” Sibilia said. “Are things awesome? No, but they’re a lot better than they could have been. People are still struggling and this is a great tool to bring in now.”
The Wilmington recovery officer will be accommodated in the town office building. Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy says the town has already allocated space on the building’s third floor.
Murphy says economic development is also one of the roles of the recovery officer. “One is geared up for an economic development role, recruiting businesses to come to this region, in addition to helping the businesses that are here now. There are so many businesses struggling due to the economy and Irene.”
Murphy says that, although Wilmington doesn’t have any projects waiting in the wings for the recovery officer, they’re ready to take full advantage of the opportunity. “The hurdle was getting the funding, we can tweak it as we go along,” he said. “My goal is to get someone in there, and then we’ll have the advantage of having that person right here.”
The recovery officers and marketing coordinator will be hired locally, in southern Vermont. The positions are funded for 17 months under the grant. “I’m hoping we’ll have people on the ground beginning in February,” Sibilia says.
The EDA recovery program and grant may also promote more regional economic development cooperation, something that has already been happening through groups like BDCC’s Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS). “One of our goals is to look more regionally,” says Colvin, “and to get the regional development corporations to work together. Having small towns work on their own in a small state is tough. I hope this partnership with Bennington and Windham regional commissions is an opportunity to partner together to attract more resources.”
Sibilia, who initiated the work on the EDA grant more than a year ago, says the grant is a coup for the region.
“There was dancing in the office” after the grant was announced, she said. “It feels good to know we did this. And it really was a ‘we.’ A lot of people came together and collaborated to make this happen – 20 different organizations. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
“We’re excited about it,” Colvin said. “It’s good to get the good news for the holidays.”
Windham County Regional Commission associate director Susan McMahon hadn’t returned calls for comment as of press time.