Economic highlights from around the region

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Economic highlights from around the region

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 12:01pm -- tim

by Olga Peters, Vermont Business Magazine It is easy to focus on the big population centers in the Upper Valley. Here are a few highlights from other communities. Anne Marie Delaney and her partner Peter Jillson started Silo Distilleries six years ago. They're iconic red barn and business are located in a place called Artisans Park in the town of Windsor.

Photo: Silo Distillery. Courtesy photo.

Delaney said, “Being part of Artisans Park has far exceeded our expectations.”

Delaney co-owns Silo with Jillson, who is also the distillery’s CEO.

In her opinion, what makes the park successful is its combination of businesses and the beautiful community that surrounds them.

Artisans Park is a unique collection of eight different businesses.

The businesses include an outdoor recreation center where people can rent kayaks for a day on the Connecticut River, or go camping, or in the winter, dog sledding. The park also houses a catering company, Artisans Eats, and creators of preserves and marmalades, Blake Hill Preserves. Harpoon Brewery and restaurant also calls Artisans Park home along with the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company Market.

The Path of Life Sculpture Garden also graces the property. The Simon Pearce Windsor workshop, which features glassblowing and ceramics, is a neighbor as well.

While these businesses may appear different, they share a common theme. They are experiential. Customers can taste, and smell, and see, and do, and experience.

According to Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp, Artisans Park’s developer and owner Terry McDonnell actively sought to create a place where customers could interact with the park, the environment, and its business owners.

According to Delaney, Jillson - an eighth generation Vermonter - wanted to return home to the Green Mountains from where the couple lived in Boston. This decision started Delaney and Jillson on a quest to build a business in Jillson’s home state.

“We had to figure out what is available in Vermont and what can we use from Vermont for the basis of the business,” Delaney said.

Their quest led them to agricultural experts at the University of Vermont, who recommended they speak with farmers who were producing “excellent grain.”

Thus, Silo Distillery was born.

Silo produces craft spirits: vodka, gin, whiskey, and a few “special editions” such as Solstice. This spirit was produced in collaboration with Harpoon. Solstice contains the barley, wheat, orange peel, and spices that Harpoon features in its UFO White beer.

Before settling in Artisans Park, Delaney and Jillson searched a number of communities near their home in Barnard. Delaney said some of the criteria she used for selecting a community included whether the town and distillery were a good fit? How will business benefit the local community?

Delaney said Silo has not struggled to find good employees.

Her experience contrasts other areas of the region.

Carol Lighthall, CEO of the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, noted in an email that, “The challenges of our economy include workforce shortages, weather/seasonality, transportation, and housing.”

“For workforce shortages, Okemo Valley businesses very much feel this pain,” Lighthall continued. “They use state, agency and online resources to the fullest and in the end either bootstrap getting the work done themselves when needed or adjust their business accordingly.”

Delaney praises the other businesses at Artisan’s park saying that whenever Silo holds events it tries to use its neighbor’s products.

In her opinion, the “icing on the cake” for Artisans Park is the Path of Life Sculpture Garden. According to Delaney, owner McDonnell was inspired by a similar garden located near Dublin, Ireland.

One thing Delaney would like to see change, is she’d like more of the people who visit Artisans Park to also travel into downtown Windsor.

“The people are wonderful and they’re always hopeful,” she said.

Delaney has grown to love Windsor and she wants it to benefit more from the commercial activity at Artisans Park. The two locations, however, seem to sit far enough apart that casual day trippers don’t trek from the park to the town, she said.

Harpoon Brewery Restaurant and Beer Garden in Artisans Park, Windsor, VT. VBM photo.

The Artisans Park businesses receive tremendous community support, said Delaney.

This means a lot to her because, she said, Windsor is not a wealthy community.

Yet, the locals make a point of coming to the park to purchase gifts or when they need to send a package out of state.

“They're really proud of that Made in Windsor label,” she said.

Other projects:

• Chester, Windsor, and Springfield have undertaken a project called Better Connections. This is through the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The program is a transportation planning and grant program that also looks through the lens of creating vibrant downtowns. Chester has completed its planning process and Flint says the town is already reaping the benefits in the form of a large sidewalk grant to connect and area of town called “The Depot” to downtown. Springfield is seeing some improvements in its downtown as a result of going through the Better Connections program. Windsor is still in the planning phase, said Flint.

• In the Okemo Valley, tourism is the major economic driver. Lighthall, said that the community seems pleased with Vail Resort’s purchase of Okemo Mountain resort last fall. “The EPIC Pass is an exciting new offering from Okemo Mountain, allowing pass-holders access to lots of skiing options across the country, in Canada, Japan and Europe,” Lighthall wrote. Lighthall also shared that earlier this year, the chamber took over publication of Okemo Magazine, previously published by the ski area. The first issue of the Okemo Valley Magazine is out this October.

• Springfield’s participation in the federal Opportunity Zone program is paying off. The program provides investors with financial incentives when they support projects in economically challenged communities. Flint praised the work of state employees and officials who he believes excelled at working with communities to apply for the designation and for recruiting potential investors. So far, two properties in Springfield have been purchased using the program. Two more are about to be bought. Two others are in negotiation.

• Weathersfield, Windsor, and West Windsor have completed work studying the economics of their outdoor recreation industry. Much of the focus has centered on the former Mt Ascutney ski area which closed several years ago. According to Jason Rasmussen of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, this study investigated how the three towns could combine forces and be more effective with its outdoor recreation industry. Rasmussen anticipates that the report will be published in a few weeks.

Olga Peters is a freelance writer from Southern Vermont and contributor to The Commons, a weekly newspaper based in Brattleboro.