Tuesday October 30, 2012

BRATTLEBORO - Brattleboro Retreat President and CEO Rob Simpson was given the Founders Award by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Board of Directors at this year’s annual meeting.

The BDCC meeting was held last Tuesday, at the Austine School.

Simpson was recognized by the Windham County business group for his role in leading the Retreat through a period of growth and facility improvements.

"We are a hospital, first and foremost, and we are here to take care of people," Simpson said after accepting the award. "But the reality is that we are also a business and we have a significant impact on the community."

Simpson also stressed that while many businesses are struggling or showing no growth, the Retreat has been expanding, which he says leads to more jobs and more money being pumped into the local economy.

"We are a business leader and we take the responsibility seriously," he said. "The stakes are high and if we want Vermont to remain the special place it is we need to make sure there are jobs here. We play a crucial role in making that happen."

BDCC Board President John Meyer said the psychiatric hospital is one of the town’s largest employers and its stability and financial strength has far ranging effects on the region’s economy.

Simpson also was given the annual Founders Award in recognition of his work with the Vermont State Hospital.

When the Waterbury hospital flooded during Tropical Storm Irene the Brattleboro Retreat admitted State Hospital patients and Simpson was there to personally greet them when they arrived, Meyer said.

Simpson accepted the surprise award in honor of his aunt, who he said was treated for mental illness and whose treatment, he said, inspired him to work with people with mental illness.

The BDCC annual meeting was held as the economic development organization finds itself in a period of stability, but also of transition, Executive Director Jeff Lewis said during his presentation at the meeting.

The organization owns and manages the Cotton Mill building and the former Book Press Building and both are almost fully occupied with businesses that are employing dozens of people and contributing to the local economy.

Over the past year BDCC became an important resource for business owners who were struggling to rebuild from Tropical Storm Irene and the group’s finances are strong, Lewis said.

At the same time Lewis said the board is thinking about what the group’s role should be in the future.

Through the years BDCC has invested in bricks-and-mortar projects, but he said the days of multi-million dollar development projects are probably over.

Lewis said BDCC has to do a better job of anticipating change and challenges in the local, state and national economy.

He also said the board is mostly made up of more senior members who will be retiring in the coming years. He said it will be important in the coming years to get younger business owners and professionals involved with economic development in the region.

Meyer pointed out the role BDCC played in both the Brooks House fire and with rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene. And he said the ongoing work of the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies group will help BDCC work with more businesses across the region.

Tim Donovan, Chancellor of Vermont State Colleges, recognized the role the new downtown campus for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College will play in strengthening the business climate in Windham County.

Far beyond only the economic impact that a few hundred more students, teachers and administrators will have on the downtown every day, Donovan said the school will help train employees for in-demand positions while also giving more local students access to affordable post-secondary education.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.