Doing nothing is not an option
A beautiful stretch of early summer weather like that we enjoyed last week and into this one is almost all it takes to understand the foundation of why Vermont in general, and our slice of it in particular, should be an easy marketing project when it comes to economic development and mining revenue from travelers and tourists.
The view from Stratton Mountain, for example, as the Wanderlust Yoga festival drew thousands of practitioners to the area during its four-day run last week, was nothing short of majestic. Clear blue skies, perfect temperatures for outdoor activities, and pristine views in all directions were the stuff of dreams for those charged with drawing more revenues, more residents, more visitors — more of all of the formula that encourages visitors to think they could enjoy all of this all the time if they only lived here all the time.
The world of work, does, of course, have the inconvenient reality of reminding most if not all of us that from time to time the office or workplace has needs that have to be served, but if you have to work somewhere, why not here, where there's so much to be had at close range?
From arts, shopping, dining, schools and outdoor recreation, the Northshire really does make a good case — overheated promotional chamber of commercesque rhetoric notwithstanding — that it does have all the building blocks in place for a great place to visit and settle down in.
Of course, we are far from the only ones staking that sort of claim, and the longer it takes to put in place some sort of overarching marketing entity to spread that word the less the area will maximize its potential for harvesting a fair share of that discretionary income and investment that follows jobs and real estate.
The collapse of the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce this past spring was a serious blow to the efforts that need to be underway to leverage the natural advantages the area should be enjoying. The causes for its implosion will, and should, be picked over for awhile, because things should never have reached such a parlous state. But now is a time to look forward, and in the forward-view mirror lies the need for some entity to pick up the slack. Because there is slack.
After a quiet stretch, things seem to be moving forward again in connection with the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce and the Shires Regional Marketing Organization to fill the void left in the wake of the chamber's demise. Hopefully some coordinated effort will be emerging from discussions those organizations may be having with area businesses based up here, along with a sense of urgency not to ride on the leftover momentum of previous initiatives. It may or may not be an ironclad law of physics, but with marketing and branding, it seems, when something stops moving forward, it moves backwards. And there is too much money, time and honest hard work and effort involves to allow that to happen. Too many new exciting projects, like the group of new hotels that have opened or planning to, and the Depot Street overhaul set to launch in earnest next year, that see the potential for this place. Other towns, like Woodstock, Stowe or Saratoga, have plenty to offer visitors and would-be residents as well.
Until some umbrella-type organization does re-emerge, the burden is going to be on local businesses, in small groups or sectors, to be a lot more pro-active and thinking as team players than they may be used to. It's important for individual businesses to promote themselves, but it's also a worthy endeavor to promote the options within a sector, like retail, or dining or lodging to name a few obvious ones. And it's also a virtue to think big picture, as in a regional mentality.
A good example of that might be the wedding industry, which — granted, it's June, traditionally a busy month for nuptials — but one that seems to draw an amazing number of people and families up here for services, receptions and of course, shopping, dining and lodging. The growth in the number of event spaces that cater to weddings alone is enough to make that clear.
The developments over at the Rec Park, with two new large fields under construction and other enhancements underway, with an eye towards bringing sports tournaments to town, is a great step forward and one which could be transformative if all goes well. The potential dollars involved are bonanza-like. The opportunities can be maxed out, or not.
Not every yoga practitioner who attended Wanderlust may have had a visit to Manchester to make the rounds of shops and restaurants in mind as part of their weekend getaway, but even if 10 percent did or could be enticed to, that's better than nothing. The point is that someone, or something, needs to lead and coordinate that. Most entrepreneurs and business owners already have too much to do. This is also a moment for the next generation of town leaders — be they in business, education or whatever field — to step up and step forward. Manchester and the Mountains offer lots of opportunities. We all need to play a role in turning those opportunities into realities. We can't rely on civic minded philanthropists to do the heavy lifting, as Manchester has so often relied on before, to bestow facilities like Riley Rink and state-of-the-art education facilities. A good start would be to create a new chamber-like organization, either as a standalone or a satellite of a larger county-wide organization. But there isn't time to lose.
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