These are all positive developments and we hope these efforts can be sustained over the long haul. The reason we say that is, simply put, results won’t happen overnight.
There are cycles at play in economic development, many of them outside the control of local businesses or officials. As those cycles evolve, we go through boom and bust periods. One recent example of that is the real estate market. Although we aren’t experiencing the total collapse other areas of the country are, we are certainly in a low period compared to five or six years ago. As the real estate sector of the economy slows, the ancillary businesses that support it also face a slowdown.
Historically, Vermont’s economy was largely agrarian based, and in other times manufacturing fueled the economic engine. Although they still play vital roles in the local and broader statewide economies, agriculture and manufacturing have largely waned over the past decades. And as they have waned, other sectors of the economy have picked up the slack.
In Windham County and across Vermont, growth is fairly stagnant. Population growth is flat, and we face an aging population as well. School enrollments are declining, and not expected to turn around until late in the next decade.
We’re not out to just spread doom and gloom however. In fact, we see real opportunity on the horizon.
The mere fact that so many towns are talking about economic development, and developing sustainable efforts, is encouraging.
What we hope will come out of the local development efforts, as much as anything, is the understanding that government and the private sector must work together, and that investment is a two-way street. As much as members of the private sector must be willing to invest time and capital into development projects, so too must local government.
We’ve often said true economic development is the result of a “private-public partnership” that identifies need, allows appropriate development, and involves as broad a base of the population as possible.
As we’ve also said in this space before, we encourage citizens from all areas of the community to attend the development group forums and meetings, ask questions, voice concerns, and become involved in the process. We’re delighted to see that very thing appears to be happening.
In Dover this week, a large group of citizens turned out to review the Dover Economic Development Committee’s business plan, and many in the audience were not shy about offering suggestions and critiques. In Whitingham and Wilmington, forums held by the Tri-town Economic Development Committee have been equally well attended, and many interesting and creative ideas are emerging from their small group discussions.
These are all positive signs, and lead to the hope that area towns, and the citizens of those towns, are willing to put out the effort to take a proactive approach to controlling their communities’ economic fortunes, instead of a reactive panic when things take a turn for the worse.