Let’s get to the take home moment first, then we’ll back into the ground-breaking news last week concerning the $500 million economic development initiative launched in the Northeast Kingdom: Dare to think big; all it takes to make it a reality here is vision, enthusiasm and shoe leather.
Keep that in mind as you read the details of the $500 million package that could produce up to 10,000 jobs (5,000 permanent) in a section of the state that has historically seen high unemployment and a stagnant economy.
The initiative encompasses seven projects stretching from Jay Peak Resort, the town of Newport and Burke Mountain Resort over the next three to five years. Those projects include:
• an expansion of Jay Peak’s trail system and more base development;
• a new biotechnology campus on Lake Memphremagog in Newport;
• a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for high-end, energy-efficient, wood-based windows developed by a German family-owned business of 130 years that meshes well with Vermont’s green ethos;
• construction of a hotel-conference center and marina on the shores of Lake Memphremagog in the heart of Newport;
• a new hangar and facility construction at the Newport Airport, as well as the construction of a Free Trade Zone;
• the building of four new base lodges and hotels at Burke Mountain to provide more than 1,000 beds at the base of the resort.
It’s a mind-boggling initiative in its size and scope; but that is only because we are accustomed to thinking in such confined terms in the Green Mountain State. We think small because we are small. We scale down to fit. A business that grows to 50 employees is relatively big in Vermont; attracting more than 5,000 jobs in one fell swoop seems grandiose, almost unbelievable.
Not to Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros, co-owners of Jay Peak, and the drivers behind this $500 million campaign — and that amount is likely to grow significantly in the years to come.
“We believe this undertaking will fundamentally alter the economic landscape of the Northeast Kingdom and how the international business community views this region of Vermont,” Stenger said during three stops to Jay Peak, Newport and Burke Mountain last Thursday. Added Quiros: “This initiative will not only require more than 2,000 construction workers (over five years), but will create thousands more jobs in manufacturing, biotechnology, hospitality and tourism. It is our belief that when everything is complete, the Northeast Kingdom will be an economic engine for the state of Vermont.”
And here’s the kicker, as Sen. Patrick Leahy said with an exclamation mark: it doesn’t cost American taxpayers a darn cent! In fact, he said, it’s about time we had a program that imports foreign dollars into the U.S. to grow jobs here instead of policies that export jobs overseas.
That’s the potential of the EB-5 program and why it is such an important statewide story. Like the other developments over the past five years at Jay Peak Resort, the funding has been secured through a federally sanctioned program that attracts foreign investment in exchange for temporary Green Cards to the investor. The investor has to ante up a minimum of $500,000 and the project has to create a minimum of 10 permanent jobs per investment. So far, Stenger and company have attracted $250 million from EB-5 funding. That’s 500 foreign investors willing to lend half a million each on two bets: that they stand a good chance of being repaid, and that they will earn a Green Card in exchange for their willingness to take that risk.
Think about that for a minute: These are sophisticated, wealthy individuals from around the world. They have teams that vet their investments. They have the option of selecting similar offers from throughout the country. Two hundred and fifty, so far, have chosen to work with Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros because they trust in their leadership. As a sign of optimism in those economic projects, that’s a sound endorsement — and it makes the reality of these visions all the more real. As Stenger said, “this will happen.”
Which brings us back to the three key ingredients needed to make it a reality here: vision, enthusiasm and shoe leather. The trick is to tap those individuals who have the passion, ingenuity and determination to lead the charge and then, as a community, get behind those initiatives.
The team at Jay Peak set the mold: it’s time for Middlebury and the surrounding areas to also dare to think big.
Angelo S. Lynn