WILMINGTON - A grant that was awarded in Windham and Bennington counties, which is meant to assist businesses and help boost the economy, has brought in flood recovery officers and established downtown and village revitalization programs.

It has also provided a $40,000 marketing campaign that led to a focus group at the Wilmington Town Meeting Room.

"This long term marketing project is intended to help bring in additional tourists and handle recruitment challenges for employers," said Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Director of Economic Development Laura Sibilia.

On June 18, the BDCC invited about 25 representatives from the tourism industry to meet with Atlas Advertising of Denver, Colo. A focus group will help establish the Southern Vermont Sustainable Marketing Program, or SVSMP.

Sibilia helped to secure the Economic Development Administration grant that allowed this project to happen. It will benefit the communities served by the Chambers of Commerce in Brattleboro, Manchester, Bennington and the Mount Snow Valley. According to a press release, SVSMP is "aimed at increasing tourism and making employer recruitment efforts more successful."

Representatives of Atlas Advertising asked questions to collect data that will help attract more tourists and make the economy grow.

"The purpose today is to learn," said Atlas Advertising Associate Director Keeley Sullivan. "We need your input and need to hear directly from you."

"It's a very sophisticated community. When you live in the big city, it's hard to meet people out of your network," said one area business owner, who moved to the region from New York City. "I can't imagine leaving this area now."

When asked about the quality of living and working in the state, Rep. Ann Manwaring said being able to have her own business for 25 years had been the result of the entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities that exist in Vermont.

Green Mountain Marketing owner Phil Gilpin Jr. had previously lived in Los Angeles, but when he visited his parents in Vermont, he enjoyed it so much he decided to start a business in West Dover.

"If you come here with a full salary job, you get to go for a hike in the morning and work in the afternoon," he said. "And it really is a place that wants you to succeed."

One man commended the local planning commissions and chambers for valuing Vermont's resources and the state's general lack of overconsumption of natural resources.

When asked to differentiate between other parts of Vermont, southern Vermont was cited as being closer to New York and Massachusetts. Its cultural assets and small towns were also mentioned. Ski resorts are main drivers for tourist groups in the area. They bring people to the area for their first time. One man said that the No. 1 contributor for people returning to Vermont after their first visit was the friendly people and the second was the value.

"We're not an area that needs to create a product to sell. Our problem is there's this lack of connection between what we have available here and making it known to people who need to know it," said Gilpin. "The problem is just communication. If we can (just) find out how to reach people. ... That's why I started my business."

Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold mentioned that the biggest challenge may be the region's biggest asset and advocated for creating a regional entity for marketing.

"There's so many things to do and so many of us out there trying to sell that. If we're looking at this regionally, we need to define ourselves not as individuals but as umbrellas to the region." he said.

Grinold said he thought to successfully market the area, southern Vermont would need to become a brand, not a geographical location.

It was said that the non-profit organizations, which includes museums, have had difficulties reaching potential customers because advertising can be too expensive. This led to discussion on the limited resources of the region that don't allow for a high return on investment due to the lack of finding the right audience. Marketing this area in New York City isn't always seen as cost effective, several attendees pointed out.

The focus group was held on the same day that Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch announced the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce had been awarded a $49,000 federal grant for the Chamber to identify a brand and assist with marketing efforts for its region.

"We're authentic here," said Manwaring. "My sense is that younger people coming on are more in a world of authenticity than flamboyancy and that may be an avenue into finding a younger market."