We agree with the editorial in last week's Manchester Journal that the stars are aligned for what may be a once in a generation opportunity for the Northshire region to take control of its economic future. The key to progress on this critically
important issue will be a yes vote to The Partnership's funding by residents of the 18 towns it serves at their town meetings.
Economic development and expansion of tourism has been the constant drumbeat of discussions at every organization throughout Bennington County and the mountain towns for several years ... and never louder than it is now. The Southern Vermont Economic Development study, commissioned by the legislature and completed in December, portrays the economic health of Bennington County as
"dire." In the meantime, the towns of Dorset and Manchester, as well as Manchester Village are just wrapping up an economic development study, facilitated by the Bennington County Regional Commission, which will be publically released on February 11. Both studies emphasize the need to develop a strong business base alongside our traditional reliance on the tourist industry if we
are to reverse this downward trend.
Question: How to do it?
Answer: The Partnership, a regional public-private initiative, is a completely reimagined structure of our Chamber of Commerce. Following 16 months of hearings, meetings, conversations and deep thinking, The Partnership is designed to upgrade and professionalize our tourism marketing systems and, at least as importantly, to create a public-private economic development arm to develop the regional asset inventory and create opportunities for small-scale manufacturing, internet-dependent businesses and job creators tangential to and in support of existing business concerns.
To be successful, this effort must be regional and must be a public-private partnership. The new organization requires money for professional staff. To get the ball rolling, many businesses and individuals have contributed towards a goal of $80,000 to obtain professional analysis and to make it possible for the region to be represented at key tourism trade shows. With the tourism marketing side under way, the first hire under The Partnership umbrella will be an experienced economic development professional to bring that side of the equation fully to life. We will, for the first time, have the ability to follow-up on business leads and provide the assistance for a company to expand existing operations, start-up a new business or relocate to the region. There is no way around it, economic development requires well-seasoned, specialized talent to be successful.
The next step is a yes vote for The Partnership funding by the eighteen towns in our region to collectively contribute $75,000 to the effort. The pro-rata share of any town toward that $75,000 will be a huge bargain as it serves to leverage many times that amount from the private sector.
We do not have to accept the status-quo. However, we do need to accept the fact that nobody is going to improve our economy for us. We have two choices: we can either sit back and complain that the state or other entities are not doing enough for us, or we can take on the challenge and make it happen ourselves.
One final note, despite the economic woes of southern Vermont, our region is currently showing life with at least $100 million in new investment. That's a necessary start. It suggests the timing is perfect to build on that enthusiasm and make this region the economic powerhouse it has every right to be!
Please support The Partnership at your town meeting.