Special to the Journal
The Creative Economy has been the "buzz" word across Vermont and nationally in the past year. Last May the Manchester region added this phrase to their community dialogs. Common questions have arisen centered around "What is the Creative Economy? Why are we talking about this across the state and elsewhere in the country? Why now?"
We know that our region has always attracted visitors for those branded elements such as a bucolic landscape, Green Mountains, clean rivers, great recreation, history and the arts.
The challenge has been how to retain and strengthen our economic engines to sustain what we have, retain a workforce of young people, and address the balance between the Vermont of the past and the Vermont of the future. The Creative Economy initiative was designed to jumpstart dialogs across Vermont that would address some of the above. The goal was to encourage dialogs that encouraged "creative" and "innovative" thinking on topics that were not driven by arts and culture.
The Manchester community turned out in good numbers for three gatherings designed to lead the community through a process that helped us identify our strengths and weaknesses as well as our dreams for the future.
Through consensus three key areas were identified that we wanted to develop further. These included the need for a stronger technology presence in the area, a local food initiative, and a green sustainable business initiative. Education was a common thread in all the discussions.
Since mid-summer community members interested in seeing ideas become realities have come together to discuss ways to implement a project(s) that would address the above mentioned key areas of interest. This has led to exciting new prospects for the Manchester region.
Marlboro College's Graduate Center, based in downtown Brattleboro, has been approached in hopes of interesting them in establishing a satellite campus in Manchester. Their programming is focused on key areas that surfaced in the Creative Economy dialogs-technology, sustainable business and education. Kevin Bell, Director of Academic Programming visited Manchester to share the college's model with area residents and businesses. During town meeting days a questionnaire will be distributed encouraging further feedback from residents in our area that will assist Kevin in determining the appropriate programs to introduce to the area in the initial phases of establishing a satellite campus.
Those interested in a local food initiative determined in December that establishing a local Food Enterprise Center would address several goals identified by the community.
The establishment of such a center would provide a stimulus for our local agricultural base by providing opportunities that will lead to greater success and growth for our local food producers by offering access to a centralized USDA kitchen, access to available land that can be brought back into agricultural use, a community center for educational programming related to agricultural best practices and green sustainability and a strong marketing program.
In additition to serving as an agricultural and educational center, the proposed project will serve as an incubator for like minded businesses in the areas of agriculture, green thinking, technology and sustainability, thereby developing an engine that will stimulate and attract new business.
The "green sustainable business" group had been waiting to identify a project that would serve as a community center as well as an educational tool that could demonstrate green "best practices," where the public can come and learn about green sustainable construction and application, how this technology works and how it can be implemented in everyday lives. The green group will be coming together to design the building in which the center will be housed and implement the newest technologies to create a sustainable building that is low in cost to operate and low impact to the environment.
Moving into 2008 a vast amount of research and discussion is being had with people across the state. Existing models are being studied.
Networking opportunities are being identified as well as potential funding sources from the private and public sector. Our community is one of many across the state looking to draw from our heritage to move forward in new and innovative directions.
Conversations have been had with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources and they are working with our creative economy efforts to help make our ideas realities.
We, like many other communities across the state, are on the right path. Montpelier realizes how valuable our agricultural base is to our future and are addressing ways to support all our efforts.
Beth Meachem is the Creative Economy Co-coordinator.