At a meeting in Townshend Tuesday evening, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which developed and will administer the grant program, held an open meeting to gauge public opinion on how the Windham County Economic Development Grant Program money should be used. Noelle Mackay, commissioner of the department of housing and community affairs, and Lawrence Miller, secretary of commerce and community development, were on hand to field questions, take comments, and explain the application criteria.
Applications will be ranked by a score of up to 100 points, based upon a list of categories, each with a maximum amount of points possible. This scoring will include up to 35 points for job creation and retention, and a maximum of 10 points for categories such as readiness to proceed, and leverage of other funding programs. There are seven categories in which applicants can achieve up to five points, including addressing an unmet need, assistance to those adversely effected by the Vermont Yankee closing, and coordination with local and regional planning.
After the criteria are scored, input will be sought from the regional development corporation, in this case the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, and Windham Planning Commission, and then given to the Vermont Economic Progress Council, which will prioritize and rank the applications before giving their recommendations to the governor’s office. The ACCD is accepting applications beginning July 1, and ending in August. The ACCD will have two rounds of awards each year, the first taking place in October.
ACCD will directly accept applications from nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and municipalities. Businesses will apply directly to lending agencies including the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. The ACCD plans to accept and consider applications from eligible lending agencies, to provide loans to eligible businesses as well.
“We want to see you say, ‘We want $500,000 and here’s how we’ll take that money and help numerous businesses,’” said Mackay, who developed the program. “We’re not here to tell you ‘Here’s $500,000, here’s how to use it.’”
According to the ACCD’s plan, a direct priority of the program would be to make a direct link to the goals and objectives of the Southeast Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS), and to review the comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) completed by the group.
SeVEDS and BDCC member Laura Sibilia, as well as SeVEDS board member Francis Walsh, spoke about the nature of the importance of SeVEDS work, and asked that the ACCD make sure to include target areas identified in the 2013 CED in their funding plans, including the creation of jobs in health care and green jobs.
Municipal leaders at the meeting from Brattleboro and Vernon voiced concern about the program, as well as its target area. Brattleboro Selectboard vice chair Kate O’Connor was concerned about the involvement of the towns within Windham County. “A concern of ours is the lack of input from towns,” said O’Connor. “Each one has its own economic development needs. Towns need to be included more in the process because we don’t feel like we’re involved, and some towns were affected by Entergy closing more than others.”
Mackay said that the ACCD had considered going to each town individually, but they felt it would delay the grant process further.
Vernon Selectboard chair Patricia O’Donnell said that while the program is aimed to work for towns in transition, there is not a town in southeast Vermont in more need than Vernon and Brattleboro due to their proximity to Entergy. “It’s not about a little money here and there, it’s about helping these people get jobs,” said O’Donnell. “Everything we’ve done for economic development we’ve done ourselves in our town. Even the fact that this is being held in Townshend, like it or not, Brattleboro is the hub of where businesses are and Vernon is losing the most jobs, and that’s where this meeting should be. If you’re concerned about the 632 people losing jobs, I hope you do a better job helping those who actually need it.”
But others, including Wilmington economic development specialist Gretchen Havreluk, expressed a need for the county, regional planning, and towns to work together and spur economic growth as a team. “While I have empathy for Vernon and Brattleboro, we won’t get stronger as a region and a county without the help of each town,” said Havreluk.