BRATTLEBORO >> A concerned group has been seeking funding to discuss the economics of Vermont and has raised $51,474 to further its project.

Since November 2015, Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) has targeted 27 towns in Vermont asking for funding to help the group recruit, cultivate and retain skilled workers as the population has been declining and aging.

"I think it's a real testament that communities throughout the region have been contributing," said Laura Sibilia, director of Economic and Workforce Development. "We've figured out how to petition like we need to."

Out of the 27 towns that SeVEDS targeted, seven have agreed to provide funding for the fiscal year 2017 budget. The towns that have contributed will provide $3 per person, except for Brattleboro which has agreed to $2.

Town Meeting members approved of the contribution at annual Representative Town Meeting on Saturday where it was proposed in an article. Brattleboro will be providing $25,000 out of its program income fund, which holds funds associated with the Vermont Community Development Program. Money loaned out of the fund comes back to the town.


"There are countervailing issues that impact the town of Brattleboro's financing that at least led me to vote at $2 a head financing," said David Gartenstein, Select Board chairman. "The state of Vermont does not provide regional economic hubs with mechanisms to raise revenue in a way that allows us to defray our expenses such that real estate taxes are not disproportionately high. So we have to support, through our real estate taxes, the economic activities for the entire region which is concentrated here in Brattleboro."

SeVEDS began nine years ago to understand what was happening in terms of negative trends in the region. The funds raised through this petitioning have allowed for expanding Workforce Development Programs. Partnerships between businesses and higher education institutions were made through the creation of the Six College Collaborative. An outside consultant is now assisting the group with creating a green building cluster, and a five-year hiring inventory showed a minimum of 3,000 jobs will need to be filled in the coming year. A young professionals network was also launched to educate the youth about the jobs that are available in their state.

The need for 3,000 jobs was revealed through the Fast Tracks to Success program, which is being developed to go into all four public high schools in Windham County. This will look at the area's five-year hiring inventory, which consists of the 31 largest employers that would let SeVEDS coordinators know what they would need in the next five years in terms of new positions, turn-over positions or retirement.

The Fast Tracks to Success program also looked at smaller businesses that expect to grow or maintain their businesses.

"We have to be to really focused on developing strategies specifically for the positions we're having a harm time filling," said Sibilia.

Over the past four to five months, Sibilia and Kristin Mehalick, the project manager at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, mentioned some strides with their petitions. Sibilia noted she is thankful that Brattleboro officials originally said they would give $50,000 if SeVEDS could raise the same amount on its own.

"Without them having challenged us to go and do this, we probably wouldn't have," said Sibilia. "We would not have started going out talking to all the municipalities that we did."

Sibilia noted a triumph was speaking with Townshend, which she thought was an essential first step in this process even though the town did not provide funding.

"The education piece of this has been huge, just from attending the select board meetings to petitioning," said Mehalick.

Mehalick noted that at a Westminster Select Board meeting, a resident stood up and asked board members why they made SeVEDS petition.

"Quite a few citizens of the community stood up and stated their disappointment in the Select Board in their choice to not automatically include us and that they have not supported SeVEDS previously," said Mehalick.

Mehalick said she hopes to do a follow-up with the newly formed Westminster Select Board in the future.

"We're fine with going to town meeting, we don't need it in the budget, as we continue to say, it's important to have these conversations, so we're fine with being on the warning to talk about it," said Sibilia.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275