Young in Manchester: Entrepreneurship

MANCHESTER - Nearly 40 years ago, a kid in the Manchester area thought it would be a good idea to strap a single board to his feet and go flying down a mountain. Along with the birth of a sport and counter culture, Jake Burton accomplished what many young people around the country want to: He took his crazy idea, some guts and built an empire out of his garage. Will there be another entrepreneur like him to come out of Manchester? Or does lightening only strike once?

While there are young people with a desire to build a business here in the Northshire, there are many different issues to consider. For one, the cost of living. According to, the source listed in Section Nine: Affordable Housing of the town plan, in 2013, the median cost of a house sold in Manchester was $299,500. However, many young people first starting out will likely not have the resources to both buy a home and afford to start a new business or career.

The town plan even notes this issue. "While most housing studies and projects focus on affordable housing in the legal and banking sense, there is also a clear need for reasonably priced housing...which is affordable for working persons and families and younger folks who may wish to stay in the town where they were raised."

Affordability is not the only problem facing Manchester. Because the town is located in a rural location, there is limited career options. Sure, there are the outlets, but most young people don't necessarily want to work at a retail outlet for the rest of their life. So what's happening in the area to try and change the two biggest factors, affordability and careers, for young people choosing to live somewhere else?

Michael Harrington is the economic development director for the town of Bennington and he said he sees "youth flight" as not necessarily a problem. "It all depends on the reason youth are leaving, he said. "When it happens and could be prevented - someone couldn't find a job or it was too expensive, these are issues we can have influence on."

He said that young professionals that chose to make their lives in the Northshire need to realize they are in a rural area without the population density and amenities of a metropolitan location. It is not that there isn't anything to do or jobs to have, he said, but instead finding what is out there just takes a little more time.

For the town of Bennington he said they have focused on recruiting employees for their companies that want to be in Vermont, as well as focusing on workforce readiness and education of individuals already in the community, some thin Manchester could benefit from as well.

However, not every industry is going to be represented in Vermont, unless the job allows you to work remotely, which is exactly what Ryan McBride does. McBride works in audio post-production providing sound for movies. He said he always wanted to return to Vermont, but first had to build the industry connections and trust out in Hollywood.

"It was a conscious choice I made early on...I just had to work harder and earn people's trust so they would have the confidence for me to work remotely," he said.

McBride has a studio in Manchester and said because he does not need a commercial space for his business, it was much easier to build in town. He said some of the processes surrounding starting new business in this area - like presenting to the different boards - can discourage a new business owner, especially one that is younger and just starting out.

"It seems caught between the times...of new growth and development and the Norman Rockwell view of what town could be," he said. "With all the empowered citizens and the town hall almost discourages growth."

He said in many cases, a new business owner could see some of the hurdles businesses have faced coming into town in the past year and be discouraged to grow their own brand.

Joy Slusarek, owner of Joy All Things Underthings, which opened in July 2013, sees the process a bit differently. She said while opening any new business is difficult, the process with the town-like getting permits and changes to signs - was relatively easy. Plus, when she had a problem, she said members of the Manchester business community or SCORE mentors [an organization that provides mentors and advice to entrepreneurs] were eager to help.

"You're applying to open a business, and as far as the town was concerned, they were willing to help me with what forms I needed," she said. "As far as the state and taxes...that is hard because you don't know what you don't know and you have to keep asking. I was kind of expecting, oh, you open a business and here's exactly what you need to do."

Slusarek said it was unlikely for a 30 year-old entrepreneur to earn the capital necessary to "be on the cutting edge" and start their own business in Manchester. However, young people can leave and make their money elsewhere before coming back and building their life or company in Manchester. That is how Slusarek said she was able to start her own business and be able to provide the women and girls of the area a product they had to travel to purchase before.

Unlike some communities, Slusarek said there are not "incentives" to come build a business in Manchester. In many cities and towns across the country, there are innovation zones to help stimulate economic development. A prime example is what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan, Start-Up NY, that will create tax-free zones to help stimulate the economy and entrepreneurship, according to the governor's website. While an innovation zone such as that would not work in a place like Manchester, there are other types of incentives to offer business owners. Pauline Moore, economic development officer for the town said these zones and possible incentives have been discussed but will probably not be created in the near future.

To help envision the future of Manchester's business community, the Manchester 2020 committee created a 'Business Incubator' group, led by John Conte, to try and see what the town needs to promote development and growth. While their goals have changed over time and conversations, Conte said the goal now is to create a co-working space.

"A place where entrepreneurs of all different ranges and backgrounds could come together and work in a conference space - instead of working out of a garage," he said.

At the moment, Conte said the committee said that the group is currently backing away from looking for a space and instead looking at gathering resources for entrepreneurs.

Betsy Bleakie, executive director of the Mark Skinner Library said in the new Manchester Community Library there will be touchdown work spaces to rent for business owners who work out of their homes or entrepreneurs just starting out. There will also be a conference room equipped with telecommunications equipment. She said these rooms will be great for a person starting a business or looking for another environment in which to work.

Some of incentives business owners may look for is affordability of housing and working space. Manchester - as it is noted in the town plan - has a lack of affordable housing that an entrepreneur may look for. Conte said looking at the availability of affordable housing is beyond the scope of the business incubator committee.

Another group as a part of Manchester 2020, the education committee, originally looked at possibly bringing a satellite campus or college to the town. Jen Hyatt, committee chair and dean of students at Burr and Burton Academy said after doing research and endless discussion, it was decided that bringing a school may not be economically sustainable.

"There is a lot of access to higher education close to Manchester," she said.

Plus, Hyatt mentioned that Manchester has a more middle-aged population that may not want to live in a "college town."

However, the group has continued to look at a way to create better knowledge about what educational opportunities are already available in town - like the Tutorial Center and also create an interactive website to help learners connect with teachers. Hyatt said the website will be dynamic and similar to Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site.

High education can in some cases be a way to attract more young people to stay in an area - because with college campuses comes different amenities in a town. Hyatt said that it is hard to attract young people to Manchester and have them stay - she is a witness to this when hiring young teachers.

"We don't know what the magic bullet is [to keep young people in Manchester]," she said.


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