Shires Summit Sets Priorities for Economic Growth
A second Shires of Vermont Regional Summit was held on November 30 in Manchester. Co-hosted by The Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization, Bennington County Industrial Corporation and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, about 35 municipal officials, business and community leaders met to follow up on ideas generated by the initial Summit held in September. Manchester was chosen to underscore the commitment of the groups to an integrated region-wide effort spanning the 17 towns served by the former Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce as well as those served by the Bennington Area Chamber.
A key finding at the first summit was the importance of including the Bennington County Industrial Corporation (BCIC) and Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) in the planning, as they are already leading economic development efforts. The expanded alliance offers greater opportunity for funding, especially as Bennington and Windham County create a Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Attendees split into two roundtables to focus on marketing and economic development, facilitated by Jonah Spivak of The Shires RMO, Matt Harrington of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jonathan Cooper of the BCIC.
The roundtables endorsed the creation of a robust website and a regional area guide to be published by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce next spring. “We’re excited that the Bennington Chamber can make this a priority for attracting visitors to our region and as a guide for locals and visitors who are already here,” said Linda Benway, president of The Shires RMO. Other priorities are a comprehensive inventory of tourism assets and resources and an analysis of the region’s highest potential geographic markets based on marketing data from current visitor transactions. The economic development group identified four key priorities for the next six to 12 months: getting the right stakeholders involved with the planning; creating an economic asset inventory; building bridges with similar groups in Windham County; and creating a simple Case for Change document to define its vision and plan the first steps in the process. Both roundtables agreed to meet again in January to continue the work.
Summit organizers were pleased with the event and the consensus reached by the attendees. “Some of the more exciting highlights from around the table were fruitful discussions about the green economy/agri-food movement, attracting/keeping millennial generation talent in the region, and the notion of economic ‘gardening’ versus ‘hunting,’” said Matt Harrington of the Bennington Chamber. “That is, we’re better off building an economic base through an improved workforce and business growth from within our communities, than luring a big manufacturing plant through incentives to save the day.”
As the combined regional effort gains momentum, Summit organizers encourage members of the business community to become involved. As Jonathan Cooper put it, “If our region is going get on the map for available federal resources, it is very important to have public participation in the process for southern Vermont. We need to involve all key stakeholders in the community.”
Interested parties should email [email protected] The Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization is a nonprofit formed to promote the region of southern Vermont known as The Shires of Vermont. Visit theshiresofvermont.com.