By ANGELO LYNN
MIDDLEBURY â€” In what amounted to a Middlebury business community town meeting, about 75 local business men and women, area professionals and community leaders listened to a presentation Tuesday night concerning Middleburyâ€™s economic future. The meeting was hosted by the Middlebury Business Association and held at the Middlebury College Kirk Alumni Center.
National Bank President Ken Perine framed the eveningâ€™s focus with a challenge to community leaders to help the town position itself for the new economic paradigm that will rise out of todayâ€™s service economy.
â€œLetâ€™s face it,â€? Perine told the crowd, â€œjust as agriculture will likely never be the dominant industry in our area again, manufacturing on the scale we saw it in the past 30 years will likely never be seen again in our town. We are morphing into a service economy, more sooner than later, and this has tremendous ramifications for our economy and the organizations charged with keeping it vibrant.â€?
In looking forward, Perine briefly reviewed the townâ€™s recent economic history. In the 1950s and â€™60s, he recalled, the economic engine was agriculturally based, with only one major manufacturer â€” Polymers. â€œDowntown retailers geared their hours to the needs of the farming community, staying open until as late as nine oâ€™clock on Friday night,â€? he recalled, â€œto accommodate farmers on their once-a-week shopping night.â€?
That began to change in the â€™70s, as the area saw a large growth in manufacturing. National industries like Kraft Foods, Geiger and Standard Register moved into the community. Home-grown industries also sprung up with businesses like Maple Landmark Woodcraft, Danforth Pewterers, Otter Creek Brewing, Vermont Soap, VEMAS, Questech, and Otter Creek Awnings, for example, establishing profitable manufacturing operations. Polymers expanded into plastics in the 1980s, and CPC moved into the industrial park. At the same time, Middlebury College was changing and becoming a more substantial local employer.
â€œAs we enter the 21st century, however, global competition in general and China in particular have posed challenges to our manufacturing base. We have seen businesses scale back, leave the area, and sell out,â€? Perine said. â€œMoreover, shifting demographics and buying behavior have changed the way of doing business.â€?
Looking ahead, Perine challenged community residents, businesses and town officials to help create new models and consolidated organizations to address future needs.
â€œAs the economy changes and funding shrinks, we need to create a new model to deal with the challenges of the 21st century,â€? Perine said. â€œSuccessful businesses in the future will be very different and require faster decision-making and coordinated efforts from our town and region in order to meet their needs. This is the quintessential paradigm shift and we need to rethink our structure if we hope to keep Middlebury a vibrant economic force into the future.â€?
Building on those thoughts, Bruce Hiland, Battel Block business partner and business consultant,
As a way to spark ideas generated by other communities and his own observations of Middlebury, guest speaker Glen Ohlund, a community consultant with New Hampshireâ€™s Main Street foundation, presented a hour-long review of how other New England communities have addressed questions of creating new economic opportunities with a focus on â€œbrandingâ€? the communityâ€™s identity and strengths. In a lengthy talk that can be seen on Middlebury Community Television, Ohlund outlined numerous points and examples throughout his presentation.
â€˜FIND IT IN MIDDLEBURYâ€™
Middlebury businessman John Wehde punctuated Ohlundâ€™s presentation with the announcement of a branding campaign the MBA, along with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, has developed over the past several months.
Wehde began his presentation with humor by asking everyone in the room to stand up and to stay standing if they had purchased underwear in the past two years and past year. Everyone else could sit. The majority who were still standing, were then asked if they had purchased underwear in Middlebury, with those who hadnâ€™t to sit down. Those still standing, he said, got the â€œexcellent shoppersâ€™ award.â€?
The purpose of this underwear poll, other than finding out which guys wore briefs and which boxers, was to dispel the â€œurban legendâ€? that you canâ€™t find underwear in Middlebury.
â€œAs of 1 p.m. today,â€? Wehde said, â€œI found ssix stores in Middlebury that are selling underwear for men, women and children, and as picky as I am about my boxers, even I have bought a dozen new pair of underwear right here in town.â€?
But what does underwear have to do with the future of Middleburyâ€™s economic climate, Wehde asked? Part of the communityâ€™s challenge, he responded, was developing an effective way to get the townâ€™s message out effectively to the larger community.
Branding, Wehde said, is always a work in progress, but it starts with four basic objectives:
â€¢ Develop a Purpose and Vision for your business.
â€¢ Determine your USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
â€¢ Deliver your message to the right people.
â€¢ Measure your success.
In accomplishing those objectives, Wehde said the town needed â€œto define for ourselves, who we are and what we want to be to our customers.â€? That starts, he said, by defining â€œwhy our customers should do business with us, what makes us different from our competition and what makes us better than our competition. We need to be specificâ€¦ is it our product selection, is it pricing, is it our exceptional hometown service, or is it our community support and involvement. Whatever it is, it is our USP that becomes our main message to our customers.â€?
Once thatâ€™s defined, the task is to define the townâ€™s target audience and deliver the message over and over. Measuring the success of that message is a necessary follow-up, but most importantly, Wehde said, â€œwe must work constantly to make sure the message is in line with the customerâ€™s needs. Not just for the first month, or even the first year, but ongoing.â€?
In coming up with a branding idea, Wehde said a number of MBA members had thought about two things â€” underwear and community.
â€œWhile it seems hard to use these two words seriously in a sentence the actually do work together in the context of what we feel the message is. And that isâ€¦ (the slogan) is not just about business in Middlebury and finding the right products and services. Itâ€™s about finding it all right here in our townâ€¦ products and services, education, art, nature, health care, jobs, religion, recreation, and an overwhelming sense of community.
â€œAs we thought about all of this, we came up with all types of slogans ideas, but we always came back to one simple idea, one simple message: â€˜Find It In Middlebury.â€™â€?
â€œIt is simplistic, and it talks directly to what Middlebury is all about.â€?
Wehde was also quick to note that the slogan may not be the one the community settles on, but itâ€™s a start, he said, and he encouraged community members to get involved with the MBA if they had other ideas and enthusiasm to help.
â€œWe are all here tonight because we want a future that encourages the values we want reflected in our community,â€? Wehde concluded. â€œWe think â€œFind It In Middleburyâ€? says a lot about who we are and what we want. With the help and support of everyone here tonight, we think we can make that a reality.â€?
Comments by BRUCE HILAND to MBA members and Community Leaders at MBAâ€™s annual meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2006. Accompanying story ran in the Addison Independent on Thursday, April 14.
Good evening friends.
As Ken has described Middlebury is changing â€¦ but change isnâ€™t happening just here. Weâ€™ve got lots of company.
The world is changing and at an amazing rate. If you havenâ€™t done so yet, I encourage you to read Tom Friedmanâ€™s book, â€œThe World is Flatâ€? (offer CDâ€™s). Friedman does a brilliant job of clearly explaining how computing power, software, the global fiber-optic network and ubiquitous Internet access are fundamentally altering virtually every aspect of our lives. Summed up in one word â€“ globalization â€“ this phenomenon is fundamentally altering our lives.
Itâ€™s changing how young people are educated and how they prepare themselves for careers. Itâ€™s changing how we all communicate and how we establish, build and maintain relationships and how we work and play.
On the business side itâ€™s changing how business people conceive, launch and grow entrepreneurial enterprises; itâ€™s changing where they can physically locate; itâ€™s changing how they develop and secure intellectual property; itâ€™s changing how businesses large and small operate within increasingly complex - but flexible and efficient - global supply chains; and itâ€™s changing how they compete and collaborate for markets and customers.
It can be frightening, it can be exhilarating, it can be frustrating â€¦. But it canâ€™t be stopped.
So here we are in Middlebury â€“ and by Middlebury I mean our broader community of Middlebury proper and its surrounding towns â€“ and we see our community changing.
A number of us believe our community is at a crossroads â€“ but not in a crisis â€“ and I expect that most of us here tonight prefer not to leave our future to chance or to outside interests.
This is a very special place. We enjoy natural beauty, historic charm, a world-class college and, most importantly, talented, civil, generous, caring and responsible people. We have the opportunity to preserve the character and quality of our community while accommodating the imposed realities of the 21st century. But to do so weâ€™ll have to work together, perhaps in ways we havenâ€™t done before and certainly in ways we havenâ€™t yet figured out.
A given is that we must have a healthy economy. One day last summer the MBA Board took a look at where our community is today. (It wasnâ€™t a few empty store fronts that got us to work but that did help get folksâ€™ attention.) With invaluable help from Ken Perrine and Ron Liebowitz we talked about what it might take to ensure our business communityâ€™s economic health and vitality. Not just â€œdowntownâ€? â€“ but also Exchange Street, Washington Street, Route 7 North and Route 7 South/Court Street.
Next, we took a crack at defining the task: To revitalize Middleburyâ€™s appeal as a primary destination for shopping and entertainment and promote our community as a great place to live, work, shop, do business â€¦ and play.
Then we drafted four objectives along with a list â€“ by no means a complete list - of actions to help accomplish those objectives:
Objective #1 We need to promote â€œshopping localâ€? â€“ or â€œshopping locallyâ€? - and â€?doing business here.â€?
Action â€¢ â€œBrandâ€? Middlebury in a way that captures the loyalty of area residents and students using communicative images and themes (i.e. logoâ€™s and slogans) to convey our message. Glen Ohlund and John Wehde will talk more specifically about this
Action â€¢ Improve the retail mix of stores and services by attracting a mid-size department store â€“ the â€œAmes replacementâ€? . Also - Develop and conduct retail staff training to improve the shopping experience.
Action â€¢ Educate our â€œtargetsâ€?, young and old, to the benefits of â€œshopping localâ€? and â€œdoing businessâ€? here
Action â€¢ Stage regular, stimulating â€œeventsâ€? â€“ Legoâ€™s convention
Action â€¢ Develop additional parking capacity and convenience
Ovjective # 2. Make Middlebury a more appealing visitor destination
Action â€¢ â€œBrandâ€? Middlebury in a way that captures the attention of visitors
Action â€¢ Train and equip business owners and their staffs at key â€œentry pointsâ€? to welcome visitors and promote local services
Action â€¢ Create a new â€œVisitors/Welcome Centerâ€? with essential services (i.e. public potties)
Action â€¢ Further develop our â€œwaterfrontâ€? capitalizing on Otter Creek Falls
Objective # 3 . Make the Town a vital part of campus life
Action â€¢ Develop a working partnership with College staff
to better coordinate and communicate local events, services, etc. with the College community
Objective #4 Make Middlebury a compelling location for new â€œcleanâ€? and â€œgreenâ€? employers
Action â€¢ Conduct an â€œasset inventoryâ€? to identify Middlebury strengths for recruiting such employers
Then we started work.
Ken hosted a series of joint MBA/Chamber meetings to identify immediate opportunities for collaboration. The leadership of both organizations now meets bi-weekly to continue that momentum.
Plans are in place to have â€œwelcomeâ€? events in Sept. and Feb. to introduce new College students and families to local businesses and supply their needs on campus.
At last summerâ€™s meeting, Ron challenged us to come up with a â€œbig ideaâ€? the College could help carry out. We responded with the idea of making this community one big â€œhot spotâ€? with high-speed, high bandwidth internet access everywhere to help objectives 3 and 4. With Ronâ€™s support Dave Donahue is leading the Collegeâ€™s effort to assess and structure this â€œbig ideaâ€?. Dave has, in turn, recruited Jon Isham and Jessica Holmes, both College economics professors, to shape a research effort for their students this summer to develop essential facts about the community, shopping attitudes and experience, internet use, etc. â€“ facts essential for effective actions.
We donâ€™t believe for a moment that weâ€™ve got answers to how to shape our future. Indeed, weâ€™re still not sure weâ€™ve asked the right questions. Shaping our communityâ€™s future is not a task for any select group. But we will need leadership and this deserves our best thinking and best efforts.
And thatâ€™s our principal reason for asking you here this evening. If you believe as we do that we can influence the Middlebury of tomorrow - not just let it happen - we need you. Your community needs you â€¦ your best thinking, your energy, your time and, yes, when weâ€™re1 confident that there are effective ways to spend it, weâ€™ll ask for money.
Comments by KEN PERINE to MBA members and Community Leaders at MBAâ€™s annual meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2006. Accompanying story ran in the Addison Independent on Thursday, April 14.
We are here tonight to talk about Middleburyâ€™s business climate and the challenges we are facing. To take a leaf from John McCardellâ€™s book, before we can assess our current situation, we should look to the past for clues and guidance.
Back in the â€˜50s and â€˜60s, our economy was clearly agriculturally based. There was only one major manufacturer, Polymers. The downtown retailers geared their hours to the needs of the farming community, staying open until as late as nine oâ€™clock on Friday night to accommodate farmers on their once-a-week shopping night.
That all changed as the â€˜70s arrived. The period from 1970 to 2000 saw a tremendous growth in manufacturing businesses and employment in that sector. As large national companies sought cheaper labor and land, they looked to rural sites for new plants. Middlebury welcomed Standard Register, Kraft Foods, and Geiger. The entrepreneurial spirit was also alive and well as smaller home grown companies came onto the scene, Maple Landmark Woodcraft, Danforth Pewterers, Otter Creek Brewing, Vermont Soap, VEMAS, Questech, and Otter Creek Awnings, for example. And following the advice in the movie, The Graduate, we invested in â€œplasticsâ€?! Polymers expanded and CPC moved to town. Middlebury College was also changing and becoming a much more substantial organization and employer in the marketplace.
As we enter the 21st century, however, global competition in general and China in particular have posed challenges to our manufacturing base. We have seen businesses scale back, leave the area, and sell out. Moreover, shifting demographics and buying behavior have changed the way of doing business. Letâ€™s face it, just as agriculture will likely never be the dominant industry in our area again, manufacturing on the scale we saw it in the past 30 years will likely never be seen again in our town. We are morphing into a service economy, more sooner than later, and this has tremendous ramifications for our economy and the organizations charged with keeping it vibrant.
In the â€˜50s and â€˜60s, the selectmen were the drivers of economic development in Middlebury. As state and federal funding became available in the â€˜70s and â€˜80s to help rural development, many new organizations sprang up. The Middlebury Chamber of Commerce was chartered in 1969. In 1973, it changed to the Addison County Chamber with the Middlebury Downtown Business Bureau taking over specific responsibility for downtown activity. The Otter Creek Economic Development Corporation began in the mid 80â€™s and eventually became ACEDC in 1994. There were many special interests established in this period and each organization had a relatively narrow focus.
As the economy changes and funding shrinks, we need to create a new model to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. Successful businesses in the future will be very different and require faster decision-making and coordinated efforts from our town and region in order to meet their needs. This is the quintessential paradigm shift and we need to rethink our structure if we hope to keep Middlebury a vibrant economic force into the future.