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College role in town fund is vital

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Posted on January 26, 2012 |
By Tom Corbin



Tom Corbin has, over the past three decades, taken leadership roles in the Middlebury Development Corp., the Downtown Middlebury Business Bureau, the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and the Addison County Economic Development Corp. He works at Middlebury College and lives in Charlotte.

In April of 1979, I began my first career in Middlebury working at the National Bank of Middlebury. Main Street and Merchants Row looked very different than they do now. Abrams Department Store, Lazarus Department Store, Baker’s Jewelry Store, The Vermont Book Shop, Skihaus in a larger footprint, Frog Hollow CraftCenter and Ben Franklin were the big retail players. Standard Register, Kraft, Polymers, Porter Hospital and Middlebury College were the big employers. Cartmell’s Sales and Service occupied the Marble Works.

The downtown business group was just a vehicle for advertising the sidewalk sale and holiday sale. The county chamber of commerce was small and not very viable. Middlebury Development Corp. concentrated its effort inthe industrial park and the county did not have an economic development group. Middlebury College played a very quiet and withdrawn role in the economy of the town.

Over the past 30 years, the players have changed and so has the business environment. Small-town retailers have moved to smaller shops and stores. Major employers such as Standard Register and Polymers have left the area, while others have changed ownership; for instance, Kraft is now Cabot.

During the 1980s and ’90s, when economic opportunities emerged, volunteers would come together to help the company open or relocate. Even groups such as the Middlebury Development Corp. and the Downtown Middlebury Business Bureau operated in a loose, fairly informal way. The organizations that have succeeded these groups, like the Better Middlebury Partnership, the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, and the Addison County Economic Development Corp., are more focused on improving the economic development of the town and the region. And they have to be. Times have changed.

Similarly, Middlebury College is not the same college that it was in 1979. It has grown to an internationally recognized institution with operations in a number of foreign countries and several states. The recently announced Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the MiddCore program are both great examples of the expanded reach of the college. The college has also become proactive in its approach to improving the local economy — by purchasing local food and fuel, partnering with the town on downtown development, and encouraging investment in the area.

In the 30 years I have been active in the Middlebury business community, the most exciting economic development that has taken place is the creation of a three-way partnership of the town, the college and the business community with the goal of establishing a business development group to improve the economic vitality of our community.

Given the vast array of people who are associated with the college, I believe this venture has great potential for our town and is an opportunity too good to pass up.

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