What are Northshire leaders focused on in 2019?

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MANCHESTER — Looking forward to 2019, the Journal asked a number of civic leaders from politics, business and the arts to weigh in on a single question: "What's the most important issue facing the Northshire in 2019 and how should we focus on it as a community?"

Here are the answers we received, in the order in which we received them as of Wednesday at press time.

State Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan, Dorset:

The Northshire is losing ground, meaning there is a disparity between income levels and steadily rising housing and transportation costs. We must maintain and expand affordable housing to attract and retain the most needed capital: people! We must come together as a community to be sure we take appropriate action on this front that does not interfere with the beauty and way of life of the Northshire residents, whether incoming, current, young or older."

Mark Tashjian, headmaster,

Burr and Burton Academy:

I believe the greatest issue facing the Northshire is the need to sustain continued economic growth. Our region has a number of important pillars of strength: tourism, key anchor businesses, extraordinary natural beauty, and, of course, a very strong K-12 education system. The challenge is to continue to build on these strengths to attract families, businesses and more career-oriented jobs. To know us is to love us!

Liz Ruffa,

Dorset Select Board:

There is a lack of public transportation that makes it hard for businesses trying to attract workers, especially in the restaurant industry. Where is Uber?

There is also a lack of affordable housing options, especially in "downtown" Manchester and Dorset. People want to walk to work and have a "village" experience.

Jackie Wilson, Superintendent, Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union

As superintendent, I think one of the most important issues I'll be considering is the formation of a Taconic & Green Regional Middle School. This spring I'll be pulling together a team to start exploring this possibility. It would be a significant change for our communities but one that could open up lots of opportunities for students.

Paul W. Carroccio, president, Manchester Business Association

We need the local government to participate in and contribute more financially to the economic stability and development of the towns. Sharing local option tax revenue for marketing, business development, startups, etc. will help the business community thrive more and continue to grow these revenue sources for our community. Fast-tracking good development and permitting of community-based ideas, responsible housing developments, and commercial developments for mixed-use real estate will help the community evolve as it needs to for the future.

Our population is aging and shrinking, our taxes are increasing, and the cost of living is growing without a comparable income growth — we need to solve this and the tourism industry and lifestyle-based revenue sources seem to be our best and quickest solution in the Northshire.

If we convince tourists to come visit and maybe stay (and raise their families) through good marketing and word of mouth, we need to fulfill their expectations and provide the amenities and resources they have been convinced (by us) to come and enjoy!

And, lastly, the State of Vermont is a joke as a government — there is nothing they will do to help us as they consider the Northshire "wealthy" and "well off" ... so, we must do it ourselves!

Lana Hauben, president, Manchester Designer Outlets

The state has to take a much more aggressive role supporting business. The tourism marketing budget is significantly out of proportion to the revenue stream which in large part emanates from the tourist industry.

Business spends millions of dollars each year marketing, developing, constructing and innovating and support many local charities, the arts, education and more. Citizens must go to their legislators and ask them to support the tourism industry so it can compete with other states who rely on tourism for economic vitality.

Chris Morrow, co-owner, Northshire Bookstore

Affordable housing — the new town zoning regulations have set the stage for progress on this issue. Now it is time to figure out the next phase.

Matt Harrington, executive director, Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce

I think marketing, branding and figuring out what Manchester and the hamlet towns want to be known for and how to articulate that will be big issues.

Tammie Reilly, executive director, GNAT-TV

Foster creative economy jobs. Utilize state and federal resources and programs to leverage economic development plans.

John O'Keefe, Manchester Town Manager

Our aging population is the biggest issue facing the Northshire, in my opinion. In order to succeed in the future, we need to attract younger workers. Natural population growth will not suffice.

As a community, we need to continue to maintain the local culture that welcomes new residents. We need to continue to invest in our community amenities that attract new residents, such as our world-class schools, parks and other similar institutions. We need to grow our economy so that we have jobs for workers, and be able to provide good, affordable housing to new residents as well as current residents. A lot of this growth will happen downtown, so the new zoning that we enacted will be critical.

Dr. Joshua Sherman, The Mill, East Arlington

As a physician, obviously I feel access to quality healthcare is always critical. Similarly, having access and collaboration among our many cultural organizations and talented individuals in the Northshire will lead to many exciting opportunities for our community in 2019.

State Rep.-elect Kathleen James, Manchester

Climate change is the most important issue we face as a community, as a state, as a nation and as a planet. Our challenge — and our most exciting opportunity — is to respond to this urgent global threat in a positive way. We need to build solutions that protect our environment while expanding our economy — solutions that help, rather than harm, low-income and working Vermonters. As a legislator, I'm also looking forward to working on issues that impact so many Vermont families, including access to high-quality and affordable healthcare, childcare and paid family leave.

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