Consultant talks about transforming declining rural economy

Thursday April 25, 2013

WILMINGTON -- The room was filled with people who didn't have to be there, but were, because of their concerns over the economic decline that their region is facing and what can be done about changing that.

"The Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies process, over a few years, has been to define what's happening," said Pat Moulton Powden, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation staff for SeVEDS. "If it's good news, then great. If it's bad news, what are we going to do to move forward?"

The SeVEDS Regional meeting in Wilmington on April 24 centered around the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy document, which SeVEDS and the consulting firm Vital Economy are currently working on.

SeVEDS is an organization that works within the BDCC. It "exists to reverse the economic decline of this region," according to the organization's mission statement.

"Basically, we saw the status quo isn't go to work long term for Windham County," said Moulton Powden, who then introduced Frank Knott, founder of the ViTAL Economy Alliance.

Knott's work involves transforming declining rural communities into sustainable regional economies.

"I can assure you," he said, "you are not alone in your troubles. You can be successful in your communities."

A CEDS document is put in place with the objective of creating a regional business plan. Knott said the document would "provide more clarity for the initial SeVEDS" movement.

He thought CEDS could educate the community to "be more engaged and take ownership" of the strategy that will be created in the following months.

The term CEDS was made up by the Vermont Economic Development Administration.

Since federal agencies are pooling together resources, towns will need to work together as regions because the applicants will be fewer, but the dollar amounts will be larger, Knott said.

He also said that by coming up with a strategy, the region could create and retain wealth to build prosperity.

Knott presented ideas that included building rationale for regional collaboration and bringing the original makers of raw materials closer to consumers, which is meant to increase profit.

He encouraged people to "get over" competing against neighboring towns and suggested business owners figure out how to link their assets to other assets in their neighboring towns.

"You are competing against the world," said Knott. "People have choices to go everywhere."

He used an analogy that compared a swimming pool to a regional economy.

"Money goes out of the pool to buy materials," he said. "That's draining the pool."

Knott told the audience, which most of them knew anyway, that the younger generations are leaving and the population is aging.

"We've interviewed over 50,000 young people in this country in rural counties over the last 10 years," he said. "The number one reason (they said they left was because) ‘When we are in school, we are connected to the world. When we walk outside the doors, our parents and their friends act like boundaries make a difference. We love this community but the adults aren't enforcing the rules.'"

The CEDS process would also be about updating the regional profile, which would include information pertaining to Tropical Storm Irene, the Brooks House fire, living in a post Vermont Yankee world and how some community members have expressed a preference for no economic growth.

"Either you move ahead or you fall behind," said Knott. "Doing nothing is a decision."

This meeting had been a discussion that called for feedback from municipalities and business owners. Knott said he'd be back in June for a similar meeting, when the CEDS document is closer to completion.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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