BRATTLEBORO -- Ever since Entergy Vermont Yankee and the state announced that the company would be providing a $10 million economic development fund to help replace the jobs that would be lost when the plant closes everyone has been wondering how the money will be spent.
Gov. Peter Shumlin told a packed room at a Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday that he favors putting at least some of the money into a revolving loan fund that would give entrepreneurs access to capital.
"Let's make sure that when we expend those dollars, as much of it is in a revolving loan fund at very low interest rates so that when new opportunities come up, we haven't blown through all the money," Shumlin said. "That should be a basic principle of our goals."
More than 200 people attended the event Wednesday at the American Legion on Linden Street, where Shumlin was joined by Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Pat Moulton to discuss the Windham County Economic Development Program.
The two were in town to release more information about the fund, and also to gather input and suggestions from the Windham County business community.
Moulton will lead an additional informational session today, Thursday, July 10, at 5:30 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room in the Municipal Center.
Today's meeting is free and open to the public.
At Wednesday's event Shumlin said his administration has not yet decided how much of the VY money will be put into the loan fund and how much will be used for grants, but he said he wanted to ensure that Windham County stretched every dollar as far as possible to create and sustain high paying jobs throughout the region.
"I just want you to know that my strong bias is that we make sure we use this in a way that gives us a jump start over other folks who are trying to bring in new jobs and grow existing jobs," said Shumlin. "Let's make sure that that fund is ongoing for future community leaders to be able to tap into. Let's not just blow through it."
Under terms of the agreement worked out between the state and Entergy, Vermont will receive $2 million, every year, for five years.
Moulton reiterated that the administration has not yet decided how much of the money will be used for loans and how much will be made available in the form of grants.
She said the state hopes to have the first applications available in the next few weeks, and decisions will be made within 60 days of when the applications are released.
The state will hold two rounds of applications each year.
No more than 10 percent of the money can be used for marketing, she said, and she echoed the governor on the state's commitment of directing as much of the money as possible into a loan fund.
"This money needs to rotate and be around for generations," Moulton said. "Ten million may seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things it's not a lot, and so it becomes a lot when we leverage and we revolve it."
Moulton said the state was not necessarily going to spend each $2 million payment in one calendar year.
Depending on the applications that come in, she said, the state might hold some of the money to make larger loans or grants available in the future.
Moulton also stressed that the distribution of the money was going to be a learning process, and she said it was entirely possible that the state would make changes along the way.
"None of this is cast in concrete at this point," Moulton said. "We are flexible. We are going to live this for a little while. We can adjust and change as time goes by. We're not ever going to say this is it, these are the rules and they're never going to change. We know we're going to have to make adjustments."
Vernon Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said she wanted the employees of Vermont Yankee to have priority when the state is deciding who should get the loans or grants.
"I think Vermont Yankee people should get priority because that's what that money is all about," she said. "They are the people losing their job."
At the end of the meeting Shumlin talked about the role that his administration would play in deciding how the money will be spent.
Some local business and development leaders have argued that they wanted some say in how the money would be allocated, but Shumlin argued that state government has institutions in place that can more efficiently make decisions about the fund.
He said business and development leaders in Windham County will work with officials in Montpelier to make sure the Windham County Economic Development Program makes a real difference in supporting economic development.
"We want to maximize the possibilities, maximize the opportunities, as we move from an employer that has blessed us with high paying jobs for the last 40 years to a new future," Shumlin said. "Let's do this right. We've got a huge opportunity and we should see it as that."
More information on the program is available at www.gowindham.vt.gov.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.