MARLBORO — An economic revitalization plan for the Windham County region — about to be walloped by the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and still struggling with the effects of Tropical Storm Irene — calls for an infusion of $16 million in government investment.
The plan, written by the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, is the first and necessary step for the region to apply for funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Patricia Moulton Powden, who is about to become the executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., the sister organization of SeVEDS, said Thursday the plan lists 12 vital projects, which were evaluated and deemed to have the best role in raising wages, improving telecommunications in the region, maintaining youth in the area, among other goals.
The projects are mostly organization, rather than bricks and mortar, with a notable exception being extending water, sewer and electrical service to land adjacent to the Exit One Industrial Park in Brattleboro.
Most of the “vital” projects include such goals as creating a job board, a more “sustainable” child care system, as well as a marketing project.
Powden, who has been the workforce development chief for BDCC for the past year after leaving the Shumlin administration to return to her home county, said a total of 52 projects were submitted from throughout the county.
“The plan lays out what we want to do,” she said. The group has already made a $2.1 million request to the Legislature, with the local region supplying a $166,000 match.
The plan was released late Thursday afternoon in a meeting at Marlboro College. The draft comprehensive economic development strategy is open for public comment until Jan. 10. Hard copies are available at BDCC’s office in Brattleboro, or can be accessed at www.seveds.com.
The plan says that immediate needs include new staffing for the regional development group, including a redevelopment director; a project manager for what is being called “innovation ecosystem”; and a marketing coordinator, targeting Route 30.
Immediate project needs include a southern Vermont website, marketing funds, restarting a business plan competition, and business start-up funding possibly targeting Vermont Yankee employee business starts.
Powden said that the county is home to two large ski areas, Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain, and two smaller areas, Magic Mountain and Haystack. She said taking advantage of the people and energy that come into the area to ski could be very important for attracting new businesses and jobs.
The group also wants funding to assist with a nuclear plant close conference.
Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke recently at BDCC’s annual meeting and promised the state would “show the love” to help the region cope with the Yankee closing.
“We want to know when ‘the love’ is coming,” said Powden.
Windham County’s economy was stagnant even before the news in August from Entergy Corp., the owner of the 620-megawatt reactor, which employs about 650 people. Less than half of those people live in Vermont, with the balance in the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The closing of Vermont Yankee, and the loss of hundreds of jobs paying on average $100,000, will mean the loss of 6 percent of the region’s economy.
Plus, Powden said, employment options for those Vermont Yankee workers, who made the $100,000 wages, “are not available in the region or in the foreseeable future, based on current conditions.”
Exactly how many of the Vermont Yankee employees will want to stay and will be able to stay is unknown, she said, since much of their training and education is specialized.
Additionally, the Windham County region was severely affected by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, including massive damage in downtown Wilmington and Brattleboro, as well as many small towns in the region.
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