By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury resident Robin Scheu has responded to many challenges in her career as a bank executive, school board director and leader of various nonprofits.
All of her experience will come in handy as she gets ready to tackle her latest challenge — jumpstarting the local industrial/manufacturing economy as the new executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp.
The ACEDC board recently picked Scheu to succeed the organization’s most recent executive director, Jamie Stewart, who left earlier this fall to take a similar job in Rutland.
Scheu is the past manager of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, former interim director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust and the former chairwoman of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board. Prior to those jobs, she spent 16 years as a banker, with Bank of Boston and then at Bank of Vermont (now Keybank), running a commercial lending division, and retail divisions. She most recently ran her own consulting business.
“I think I have a broad range of experience that I can bring to bear on the job,” Scheu said.
She knows it won’t be an easy job. Addison County’s industrial/manufacturing economy has sustained some tough body blows during the past few years. Standard Register closed, and the up-and-coming business (Connor Homes) that has taken its place on Route 7 South has had to substantially trim its workforce in recent months in light of the sagging economy.
Specialty Filaments also closed, though it reopened under new ownership as Monahan Filaments. Ancient Graffiti and CPC of Vermont are other Middlebury enterprises that have closed their doors during the past year. And personal care products manufacturer Autumn Harp last week announced it was moving 160 jobs from Bristol to its plant in Essex.
Meanwhile, a lot of previously occupied retail space off Middlebury’s Exchange Street remains vacant and in need of new tenants.
Scheu vowed to work aggressively to attract new businesses to fill vacancies in Addison County. She said that, ironically, bad economic times sometimes creates prime conditions for new and existing businesses to make advances.
“Obviously, we are in tough economic times and we have to acknowledge that,” Scheu said. “At the same time, I think that it is times like these when there is opportunity and creativity. This is when great things can happen. I am really hopeful and optimistic.”
Addison County’s workforce and quality of life continue to be great inducements for prospective employers, Scheu noted.
While she is still in just her first few days on the job, Scheu believes there are opportunities for county businesses to pool their talents and resources for joint efforts. She cited, as an example, Bristol resident David Bedard’s business manufacturing recyclable burlap tire bags for two local service stations.
She said the county is in a good position to capitalize on the manufacturing of renewable energy products — such as wood pellets and switch grass.
Value-added agricultural product development is another business opportunity right in the county’s wheelhouse, according to Scheu. For example, some dairies can spin off cheese and other products to improve their respective bottom lines.
The ACEDC, Scheu said, can bring like-minded entrepreneurs together and apply for grant money to help businesses develop new products.
“Part of what I want to do is be visible and proactive in the community,” Scheu said. “I want to listen to what people have to say, to what their hopes and dreams are.
“We are here to help.”
Sarah Cowan, president of the ACEDC board, said Scheu was picked from around a dozen applicants for the job. Some of those applicants were from outside Vermont. Scheu’s background in business and with nonprofits helped set her apart from other candidates, Cowan said.
“We just feel Robin is going to bring energy and a breadth of experience and knowledge to the job to help position the organization, and we hope Addison County, in a positive way, in terms of our economic environment here,” Cowan said.