BRATTLEBORO >> Money associated with the closure of nuclear plant Vermont Yankee is expected to give a local project a shot in the arm and spark action in a community.
In Vernon where the plant is located, $40,000 from the Windham County Economic Development Program will go towards planning for a future without the facility's previous tax and job contributions.
The Strolling of the Heifers is set to receive a $90,000 grant as long as other funding falls in place.
"We're very excited. We're grateful that the governor and the WCEDP board is supporting our proposal," said Orly Munzing, founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers. "When we get the other funding we've applied for, we'll be all set to go. Hopefully, that will be by May."
According to an announcement from Gov. Peter Shumlin made Monday, a grant will be awarded to Windham Grows. The purpose of this Strolling of the Heifers project is to develop the "most promising" business opportunities within Windham County's food and agriculture sectors. It will seek out projects and provide support to chosen entrepreneurs.
The Strolling of the Heifers has already begun the process. "Tech Salad" was a program where technology experts met with groups specializing in foods. Next week, there's a meeting between those most familiar with green building.
The meetings take place at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden in downtown Brattleboro, where a space downstairs has been dedicated to helping with business accelerator efforts.
"We scale up small businesses," Munzing said. "We're hoping to build the economy by building new businesses and creating new jobs within our community."
The Vermont Council on Rural Development will use grant money for a "Vernon Community Visit" with the focus on creating a dialogue to inspire action over the next two years.
"We're excited about it," said Paul Costello, VCRD executive director. "We've been thinking about it a lot."
WCEDP grants come from money specifically aimed at dealing with the local economy after Vermont Yankee's closure in December 2014. The fund was made through a settlement that Shumlin and his team negotiated with plant owner Entergy a year earlier. The company is expected to give the state $10 million over five years to promote economic development in the county. Administering the grant money is the Agency of Commerce and Community Development in cooperation with the Windham County Advisory Council.
"These projects will help build economic development foundations in the region, providing promising business opportunities in the food and agriculture sector in Windham County and a forum for Vernon residents to continue post-VY economic development planning," said Shumlin in a statement.
VCRD conducts similar "community visits" around the state. But every town's process looks different, according to Costello. Information on the visits can be found on vtrural.org.
The council is in Hardwick right now. Efforts to begin an economic development team are underway with an eye on creating a school-community partnership, said Costello.
A steering committee for addressing Vernon's needs and issues will be assembled shortly, said Costello. He expects a meeting in late April.
"The first big event would be in May probably, then it will go through May, June and July," he said. "Then we should be done in August."
Costello plans to take cues from municipal leaders and people from different occupations and socioeconomic backgrounds before coming up with topics for the forums.
At previous meetings in Vernon, Costello said there was talk about creating a business incubator in town and attracting new families. Residents spoke of opening a general store, visitor's center or restaurant to act as a place to congregate. Expanding housing and agricultural development were also mentioned.
"And of course, energy is a big issue there," Costello said, referring to plans around hosting a natural gas plant. "We never do a top-down thing. We never think we know what's better for a community."
Altogether, the council has met with about 50 different communities, including Bennington, Manchester, Guilford, Wilmington and Bellows Falls in the southern part of the state.
R.T. Brown, WCEDP program director at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said grant applications were approved by a local council in late October then sent on to state organizations for further review.
"It's a fairly lengthy process for the grants," he said. "Loans are now on a rolling basis."
Applications for loans are at various stages of a process that is similar to the grant program. However, grants are only awarded once a year.
Currently, Brown said revisions are being made to the program's request-for-proposal document. He expects it should be ready within the next few weeks.
According to Brown, $3.6 million has been awarded to local projects through the fund, with $2.7 million of it paid to date. The only grants not considered competitive were given to the BDCC and the Small Business Development Center for running the program. And the $10 million from Entergy does not have to be awarded or loaned out within the five years it is given to the program.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.