Four + Four = economic strategy

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Four + Four = economic strategy

Sun, 08/07/2022 - 4:15pm -- tim
Partnership between four counties drafts economic development strategy. Draft West Central Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy released for public comment

by Olga Peters, Vermont Business Magazine Economic and planning specialists in Addison, Chittenden, Central Vermont (Washington and three communities in Orange County), and Rutland, with assistance from the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, have partnered to develop a regional economic development strategy.

Fred Kenney and Adam Lougee from Addison County explained that once completed, the federally recognized Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) could help businesses and nonprofits in the region access more federal resources.

Lougee heads the Addison County Regional Planning Commission. He said the four counties taking part in the project are the last ones left in Vermont to establish an economic development district.

“So we would be the fourth, and we would be kind of finishing out the state,” Lougee said.

The regional planning commissions and economic development corps developed the plan with community input over 20 months.

In the draft CEDS, the organizations wrote that they decided to undertake the project in the summer of 2020 in response to the economic upheaval of COVID and the national conflict related to racial and economic inequality.

Drafting the CEDS included a public engagement process in each of the four counties. The partners also conducted a business survey, of which 132 responses were returned.

The survey focused on workforce needs to understand what businesses or other resources to bring to the region in the future. The partners also received approximately 30 studies and regional plans. They hosted one-on-one sessions with focus groups such as high school students.

“The intent is to develop a strategy-driven plan for regional economic development,” explained Jamie Stewart, Central Vermont Economic Development Corp executive director.

The CEDS contains three main sections: regional economic profiles, key findings, and an action plan.

 

Key findings include:

  • Demographics in the region have shifted significantly in 10 years. The region’s BIPOC community has grown by 95 percent.
  • There is growing inequality between White-only Vermonters and BIPOC Vermonters, specifically in the areas of income and education. The wage gap between male and female workers still exists.
  • In alignment with national trends, the region has experienced population and economic growth in its urban centers. Yet, its rural communities struggle to sustain a stable economy and population.
  • There is an opportunity in the near term to invest in infrastructure because of the recent federal COVID funds. These monies can help pave the way for new housing and economic growth.
  • Western Central Vermont has substantial economic impacts compared to other areas of Vermont. Its geographic size, population, economic diversity, GDP, personal income, level of education, and infrastructure stand out compared to its neighbors.

An examination of the short and long-term impacts of COVID was also completed.

Stewart noted that there are $11.3 billion in federal funds available in Vermont that could be used to address long-standing problems.

Lougee said the partners tied many of the action items outlined in the draft CEDS to the ARPA funding that has recently come to local communities.

“So it wasn't just here's what we need to deal with,” he said. “It’s also a list of what we need to do, and this is the ARPA funding that is available to support that action.”

The Western Central Vermont CEDS laid out six goals:

  • Attract new workers and expand the labor force
  • Address equity needs, including housing opportunities, education, and technical assistance for all communities
  • Business development and job creation
  • Workforce development and employee retention
  • Infrastructure and resilience
  • Maintaining the quality of life found in the West Central Vermont region

Once the public comment period ends on August 12, the partners will make revisions in September. They will then submit the CEDS to the federal US Economic Development Administration. If given the nod by the EDA, the partners’ next step will be to apply to become an economic development district.

To read the draft CEDS or view informational videos, visit: westcentralvt.org.