Exciting Times for Middlebury

News that Middlebury business leaders, town officials and Middlebury College are combining forces to spur economic development (job growth) and economic activity among existing businesses should be embraced enthusiastically by all who value a healthy commercial center with the amenities needed to serve a vibrant community. The challenge facing those community leaders, as selectboard chair John Tenny aptly noted, is how to allocate appropriate resources within a limited budget. (See story on Page 10.)The good news is that the approach is being supported by three entities, not just one. That’s important because it recognizes the role the business community, the college and the town must play if any approach is to be successful. The town needs to take a leading role because it holds many of the decisions crucial to business start-ups or expansions — everything from water and sewer needs, to development and permitting issues, to the initial contacts and potential outreach efforts to attract new businesses. Without a committed approach from town fathers, any effort would likely stumble later on the process. That the town selectboard is now considering a proactive role in economic development is a monumental leap forward that opens an encouraging chapter in the town’s history.The college’s role is vital in dozens of ways. For much of the past 20 years, the college has been working hard to improve community relations and today town-gown relations are at a high point. The near completion of the Cross Street Bridge and the leading role the college took in that project is unheralded in town history, and is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when both parties work cooperatively. In economic development, the college has been working with the town on ideas to develop college-and-town owned land by the bridge and are willing to play a supporting role to attract new industry and businesses — perhaps through outreach to alumni or by promoting the town as a economic hub at the hundreds of events college officials attend throughout the year. Importantly, the college needs dynamic jobs in the area to satisfy spouses of faculty and staff, ample reason for college leaders to take a more active approach in this town-gown endeavor. The third leg of the stool is support from business and community leaders. Such peer support is vital to demonstrate and attest to the high quality of the region’s workforce, quality of life, the community’s welcoming social fabric and support for common causes within the town and state. A prosperous business community also attracts others, making the community stronger with each success. Similarly, losses hurt and, like many other towns across the nation, Middlebury is beginning to understand that it cannot rest on its laurels. If the town is to keep from sliding backwards, we have to take work harder to sustain what we have, help existing businesses grow, and attract others to build a more prosperous economic base.The first objective is to hire an economic development director who would be able to pull the various pieces together and work full-time on the challenge. That is crucial. For too long volunteers on various boards and committees have tried to do in their spare time what a full-time person will be hard-pressed to complete. How that is funded will be a challenge, but residents will hopefully understand that it is a short-term challenge with long-term benefits.The goals are to expand the tax base and job growth, and to help brand the community as a destination for shopping, attending events (think Chili Festival and other special activities), dining and lodging. The effort there is not as grandiose, but every little bit helps and simply having the town’s support would go a long way to boost local businesses as they face today’s challenges. Giving a little in that realm can mean a lot.In sum, these are exciting times for Middlebury. Hopefully, the community will embrace these efforts with enthusiasm and creative energy.Angelo S. Lynn

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Addison County Independent

58 Maple Street
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100