Website aids in recruiting

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BRATTLEBORO — SoVermont.com tells visitors this area offers more than just mountain vistas, skiing, quaint villages and farms.

"Alongside the scenery and hospitality is another Vermont where people enjoy this quality of life year round while building careers," says the site dedicated to promoting the region. "From manufacturing to family farms, medical centers to hospitality, traditional banks to tech-based startups, southern Vermont's growing employers need talented people to join their teams."

Regional marketing "helps everyone in a diffuse way," said Jennifer Stromsten, director of programs for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., "but in a way they can't do themselves."

Stromsten is involved in managing a promotional website with partners across Bennington and Windham counties. Visitors are led to job listings and shown photographs of local living.

Part of the effort is about asking different regional entities to provide information to the site and then share it. For example, an engineer firm may link to it so prospective employees can look at other job opportunities for their partner or colleges can show which ski resorts are just around the corner.

The project also involves going out to college campuses or trade shows with SoVermont promotional materials.

"We've been marketing it as 'picture yourself here' — get to know the employers and opportunities," Stromsten said. "We've been testing ideas to see how much traction we get."

The Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone was created during a legislative session in 2015 to address continued declines in population and tax receipts. Prior to that, there was collaboration around recovery from Topical Storm Irene in 2011 that led to the creation of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, an arm of the BDCC that created a federally recognized, five-year plan known as the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Windham County. A similar document was recently released for both Bennington and Windham counties.

Federal money had previously been secured for coming up with a marketing campaign. A proposal from Atlas Marketing of Boulder, Colo., was selected.

"At the time, they were absolutely cutting edge regional marketing folks," Stromsten said, as the group touted the region's tourism as well as its progressive and rural nature.

The campaign created by Atlas won an award at the Vermont Tourism Summit. At the time, Stromsten said, "it was the only thing of its kind." Now, she added, it has become "kind of commonplace."

In its wake, a coalition was formed. But the campaign did not continue due to lack of funding.

That changed within the last six months. The BDCC and Bennington County Regional Commission were able to secure approximately $30,000 via the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get staff working on the website again. Both groups also contributed funds.

"There's different pieces we execute on," Stromsten said. "They do their own outreach. We coordinate with each other. It's really a collaborative project, which you know, takes time."

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BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold called the initiative "exciting" while pointing to similar projects happening in communities. There's the bi-town marketing effort in Dover and Wilmington. Brattleboro Town Meeting members are going to decide in March whether to provide funds to the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance to promote the town using rooms and meals tax revenue. And Bennington is working on expanding its chamber of commerce.

The SoVermont campaign "will never replace those efforts and it shouldn't and won't," Grinold said. "What it does is give those efforts a broader reach, a broader tent, without going full Vermont. Because then you get lost."

The goal is to attract more people here.

"I think all of the different communities need separate messaging," Grinold said. "But our focus is still on the employer and employees. And knowing that, we can market the region."

Stromsten said it is important to start slow so no one gets ahead of each other. She plans to release a promotional video soon.

BDCC's Southern Vermont Economy Project Manager Sarah Lang said local employees were asked to participate.

"It's like, 'Do you have 10 minutes between your meetings so we can film you doing something?'" she said. "It's fun."

A SoVermont ad was placed in the January edition of Southern Vermont Arts & Living. And brochures will be strategically placed.

Part of Grinold's pitch is that with an aging population, employees in Vermont have opportunities to rise through the ranks quickly. He reported area wages are getting better. He also said commutes usually don't involve traffic and people are close to the things they enjoy.

"People are getting better at acting regionally," he said. "Employers already get it. They already know where people are coming from."

The average commute time in Windham County is 24 or 26 minutes, Grinold said, adding that "very few people live and work in the same community so it's easier for them to behave in this way. We just had to give them the way in which to do it."

Businesses and entities can reach out to the BDCC or BCRC to be included in the marketing effort.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays

at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR

on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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