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Group seeks to aid 'disconnected youth' in Addison County

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Posted on September 18, 2014 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — Representatives of Addison County’s business, human services and education sectors are banding together to tackle one of Vermont’s — and the nation’s — most pressing social and economic quandaries: How to draw into the workforce a growing segment of the population known as “disconnected youth,” citizens between the ages of 16 to 24 who are either unemployed or not in school.

Statistics show that 9.62 percent of county residents between the ages of 16 and 24 were not working or in school in 2013, and assisting them has emerged as the first major assignment of the four-year-old Addison County Economic Development Cabinet.

“The reason this cabinet group came together is that even though we have been moving our own groups forward, we knew we could have more of an impact if, at the minimum, we shared information across sectors or collaborated across sectors,” said Addison County Transit Resources Executive Director Jim Moulton.

The cabinet — which will meet next on Oct. 14 to try to develop a joint game plan to address that 9.62 percent statistic — includes ACTR, the Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC), Addison County Regional Planning, the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Addison County, Community College of Vermont, the Patricia Hannaford Career Center, Vermont Adult Learning, and the Vermont Department of Labor.

The county’s three downtown groups — the 5-town Business Council, Better Middlebury Partnership and the Vergennes Partnership — are also invited members.

The idea is to have them working together on what ACEDC Executive Director Robin Scheu called a “meta common cause.”

For example, ACTR could start tailoring bus routes to help young folks better access job training and employment sites, ACEDC could sponsor seminars and job fairs targeting that younger demographic, and the United Way might channel more resources to support services (such as child care) for young trainees.

In working together, the cabinet will rely on information from Opportunity Nation. Eighteen months ago the cabinet started working with Opportunity Nation to establish a “Population Accountability and Opportunity Index” to get a handle on who might be disenfranchised in the local economy and how the county could maximize its economic potential.

Opportunity Nation is a self-described “bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 300 businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and civic organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.”

Opportunity Nation has developed many economic indicators that can be correlated to county data. Most of the organization’s work has been in urban areas, but their representatives are interested in working with Addison County officials to add a more rural dimension to their research.

The county economic development cabinet on Monday released a local opportunity index covering 2011 through 2013. That index shows, among other things, that the county’s:

•  Unemployment rate that decreased from 5.02 percent in 2011 to 4.1 percent in 2013.

•  Median household income declined from $56,342 in 2011 to $55,454 in 2013.

•  Poverty rate declined from 11.36 percent in 2011 to 10.7 percent in 2013.

Nationally, 5.8 million people in the target demographic were neither working nor studying, according to Opportunity Nation. Locally, the county’s cabinet group wants to spend the coming month targeting a reduction in the number of these disconnected youths.

In reviewing the data, Scheu said, “It really hit home how critical collaborations are to make the changes we need to make.”

Scheu and Moulton noted that the organizations affiliated with the cabinet have specific jobs. For example, ACTR provides public transportation, the ACEDC promotes business development, and the career center gives students vocational training.

“It’s exciting for us,” Moulton said. “We (at ACTR) are understanding how our particular mission ties in more closely with the greater good, how we can collaborate with other organizations to have an impact on a bigger issue.”

Scheu agreed.

“It’s getting everyone aware, knowledgeable and inter-connected,” she said.

Scheu added that having many of the county’s nonprofits on the same page will help improve the prospects of securing any grants that might be needed to tackle the issue.

“It is a lot easier to raise funds when people see the reason behind it,” Scheu said.

The cabinet plans to work collaboratively on other issues after having made an impact on the disconnected youth demographic.

“When we are working collectively, we bring more resources and buy-in,” United Way of Addison County Executive Director Kate McGowan said.

Anyone with questions about the Addison County Economic Development Cabinet should call Scheu at 388-7953.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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