MONTPELIER — For the second time in as many years, the executive director of the Montpelier Development Corporation has stepped down.
News of Laura Gebhart’s departure came in a news release Wednesday, saying her last day would be May 10, almost a year to the day after she started. At the time, she replaced Joe Evans, who lasted nine months before resigning for personal reasons.
The MDC was established in 2017 to coordinate the comprehensive Economic Strategic Development Plan approved by the city in 2016 to boost job growth, attract new business, encourage new housing development and increase enrollment in city schools. The plan calls for potential annual returns of $5.6 million in new economic activity and $550,000 in new taxes for the city.
The City Council allocates $100,000 a year to fund the the MDC and the executive director’s position. The organization is guided by a volunteer board of directors that represents a broad range of interests in the community.
Gebhart is leaving to take a college field hockey coaching position in Rhode Island. Gebhart has a strong connection to the sport, having volunteered with the University of Vermont field hockey program last year. She previously played on the U.S. Women’s National Field Hockey team and for Penn State University while earning her degree in community, environment and development.
“I am truly grateful for my time in Montpelier,” Gebhart said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from dedicated business owners, city staff, elected officials, community partners and residents. I wish the community continued success as I look forward to the next chapter in my career.”
William Kaplan, MDC board chairman, thanked Gebhart for her time in Montpelier and wished her well.
“We knew we were hiring a champion athlete, and so are excited for Laura to return to the pursuit of a championship as a coach,” Kaplan said. ”Laura has been instrumental in shaping MDC.
“She leaves the organization in a stronger place than ever before,” he added. “We have a talented and dedicated board and look forward to how MDC will continue to grow in this next iteration.”
Despite the quick turnover in the position, Kaplan said the MDC has advanced the goals of its mission and objectives identified by city residents and officials to increase economic development and job opportunities.
Projects Gebhart has supported during her time include the new Caledonia Spirits’ distillery on Barre Street, TimberHomes on Elm Street, Stonecliff Animal Surgical Center and The Garage Cultural Center on the Heney Lot, and implementation of Montpelier’s Tax Increment Financing District. She also worked with the Bashara family and the city on a proposed 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and garage behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel on State Street.
“You can go down the box and check off some of the major pieces that people said would never happen, so I don’t think that you can say that without that focus on economic development, these things would have happened,” Kaplan said. “Nothing happens without the support and all the players in the community, but there has to be someone keeping their eye on what the big, long-term vision is. I think that is the real piece of economic development.”
Kaplan said the MDC board meets monthly to review progress on economic development initiatives.
“It’s not just the executive director, it’s an engaged and incredibly talented board from a broad swath of the community,” Kaplan said.
“Now that the fuse of economic development has been lit, between the pieces that are now going and more to come, I think it’s more important now than ever to have an economic development focus for the city,” Kaplan added.
Kaplan noted that Gebhart had a list of 40 different businesses that “she assisted in staying put or coming to Montpelier,” adding that the MDC was “a quiet group,” often operating behind the scenes to promote the economic health of the city.
“The pattern and rhythm of long-term economic development is a 5-, 10- and 20-year horizon, so it’s necessary to stay on it now that it’s going,” Kaplan said.
Mayor Anne Watson said she appreciated the work Gebhart had done for the city during her time in the position.
“I think she was very helpful in bringing people together and having critical conversations and I’m very thankful for the work she has done,” Watson said.
“I think the bigger question is, ‘Is this a valuable position?’ and I think Laura has demonstrated that it is a valuable position, and so we will find the right person to fill it, and this is just part of the growing pains,” Watson added.