Friday December 7, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- ViTAL Economy Alliance has been chosen to create a strategy for the Windham Region to boost economic development.

"It was very close," Laura Sibilia, project director of economic development for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said of the decision.

ViTAL had just been asked by the U.S. Department of Commerce to give a national standard for the best practice white paper, when its proposal was chosen by Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies Group. There were eight other proposals for creating a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for Windham Region.

"We thought, 'Well, that's a pretty good argument for utilizing them,'" said Sibilia.

SeVEDS signed an agreement with ViTAL to create a CEDS document, which focuses on long-term strategies, objectives and plans for improving the economy. It is a regional plan for growth.

ViTAL began in 1992 and has helped guide rural areas with economic development strategies. It is a for-profit social enterprise made up of independent organizations and individuals who work towards improving the economies of underperforming and remote communities.

A CEDS document is federally recognized and features an engaged and representative plan for economic growth in the region. It will primarily focus on a plan for the growth of a number of projects that support economic development.

The CEDS process will help make regional projects become eligible for Economic Development Administration funding. One particular benefit will be gaining support for municipalities for infrastructure plans.

The CEDS process is not only designed to help municipalities, Sibilia pointed out, but it will help public and private partnerships as well as development workforce tasks.

"We see this as a real, real benefit, both in terms of creating more cohesion and providing access to additional potential resources for municipalities as well as public and private companies."

SeVEDS' FY13 Work Plan, available on the website seveds.com, shows that a CEDS is needed to get federal funding. It also will help show progress with "significant development" occurring during the CEDS process.

The FY13 Work Plan also shows accomplishments of SeVEDS as well as goals.

SeVEDS was legally formed last summer but has been a grassroots effort to boost economic development since 2007. It is an affiliate of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.

Meetings will be held around the county. Announcements will be made closer to the events. These meetings will take place next year, during March and then again in May. These will be considered two periods of public engagement.

The meetings will take place in different areas of the region, such as Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Deerfield Valley and the Stratton-Londonderry area.

The final plan will be presented as part of the SeVEDS annual meeting in September. There will be a comment period, when all the data and plans will be reviewed. Then the CEDS document will be officially updated.

A CEDS document gets reviewed and updated on an annual basis.

As more and more discussion is held, participation increases. The task forces created by SeVEDS have been particularly successful in gaining support by the public, Sibilia pointed out.

These task forces include a young professionals group that works with colleges such as Marlboro College. It has held five social networking events and targets people in the 22- to 44-year-old age range.

There was a Vermont Yankee task force that looked at impacts of the plant's closing, whether that be tomorrow or in 20 years. This group is inactive now, but had issued a report to SeVEDS.

An innovation indexing group has been another part of SeVEDS as well as a communications task force that was assembled to helps tie groups in together.

Over the past year, SeVEDS has been involved with municipal outreach. Sibilia and other members of her team have met with Selectboards from 16 different towns to discuss getting voters to talk about the need for local investment in the group.

"The meetings have been fantastic and helpful. We just need to keep the conversation growing."

The idea of people, such as Sibilia, talking to Selectboards is to help fundraise for other projects and to help focus their efforts by getting feedback for SeVEDS.

Contact Laura Sibilia at 802-257-7731 or lsibilia@brattleborodevelopment.org.

For more information on ViTAL visit vitaleconomy.com.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com.