BRATTLEBORO — New year, new priorities.
Projects aimed at economic development for the Windham County region were ranked according to criteria such as impact, employment numbers, wages, quality, readiness to begin and more.
"There is no limit to how many projects a particular group can have," said Jodi Clark, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation's special projects manager and staff member for the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies. "Projects are given a range of points from one to 20."
Elsie Smith, artistic director and instructor at New England Center for Circus Arts, said she was "super excited" to host a news conference Monday morning at their new studio in the Cotton Mill building owned by the BDCC.
Design and construction of a circus school and performing arts facility off Putney Road was ranked number five on a list of 14 vital projects. The center hopes to develop property it owns on Town Crier Drive.
"We have been slowly building and growing," Smith said. "We have over 5,000 students in the entire world."
Students from Puerto Rico, Australia and other countries come to Brattleboro just to participate in their circus programming.
Smith's group moved into the space on Cotton Mill Hill back in 2003 when they were known as Nimble Arts. Four years later, they were renamed NECCA. Expansion started when the group took up more rooms in the Cotton Mill then hosted classes at the Austine School for the Deaf campus.
"Just a week ago, we moved into this studio as well," said Smith.
The top project listed, a green building cluster, was submitted by SeVEDS and BDCC with hopes of performing an analysis on the viability of building products and services for the area.
"One could wonder, 'How could they be number one on their own scoring?'" BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold said. "We had nothing to do with the scoring."
A committee donated the time and expertise to ranking the projects, Clark said. It was made up of Brattleboro Savings & Loan Vice President and Senior Commercial Loan Officer Bill Crowley, Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Cunningham, Five Maples Nonprofit Practice Manager Brett Morrison and Jennifer Stromsten, co-founder of the Institute for Nuclear Host Communities.
The regional effort to craft a federally proscribed document known as the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies or CEDS started in 2013 and took into account 27 towns. Assets, challenges and goals were addressed, said BDCC Director of Economic Development Laura Sibilia.
"That plan is good for five years," she said. "We provide yearly updates on progress within the CEDS."
Goals were inspired by the desire to reverse a decline in population and increase well-paying jobs. Improving the size and quality of the workforce and raising household income also were part of it.
"Every project that is submitted is included in the CEDS," said Sibilia, noting several federal programs require a regional economic development plan before funding is approved. "As taxpayers, we all want our dollars going to places where there's been some thought given so we have some sense of what the economy is doing, some sense of where we're going and how we'd like to get there."
Revitalizing Retreat Farm was next on the list with a Southern Vermont marketing plan following behind it. The latter is aimed at creating a sustainable recruitment project with employers and tourism entities.
Before NECCA's project was another BDCC submission, which involves extending electric water and sewer to new industrial regional sites off of Exit 1. Then there were Windham Regional Commission projects looking to analyze the residential real estate market and assess village water and wastewater, with a SeVEDs/BDCC project aimed at improving broadband access following behind.
Ironwood Brand was ninth on the list with its plan for developing a rapid prototyping facility for prefab high-performance building. Next was a health care workforce training initiative between partners such as the Six College Collaborative, Grace Cottage Hospital, Brattleboro Retreat and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
The following projects, submitted by SeVEDS, seek to create career pathways between area schools and employers, and take a look at current elements of innovation related to the ecosystem and the Southern Vermont Business Accelerator, which will determine whether business plans have a chance at success.
In between those two projects was Wheel Pad, designed by Joseph Cincotta of LineSync, a Wilmington-based architecture and planning firm.
"Wheel Pad is a 200 square foot accessible bedroom and bathroom module that can be temporarily attached to an existing home," a document stated. "Constructed with technology borrowed from the recreational vehicle (RV) industry, Wheel Pad can sit on a property without triggering zoning or building permit issues."
Last on the list was Strolling of the Heifers' development of a farm and food innovation center.
Altogether, 48 projects were submitted. The others are listed alphabetically and can be found at brattleborodevelopment.com.