MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed Jamie O. Gaucher, deputy chief of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, as the town’s first-ever business development director. In this job he will be responsible for bringing new jobs to Addison County’s shire town.
A community advisory board charged with recruiting the new “jobs czar” picked Gaucher, 46, from among three finalists who recently interviewed for the new job. The selectboard heartily endorsed the recommendation, brought forward by a special seven-member committee that reviewed 17 applications for the post.
“(Gaucher) was the one who showed the enthusiasm, skills, confidence and drive to do this job, and do it confidently,” John Tenny, a member of the Middlebury Business Development Advisory Committee, said of the panel’s top choice. “And he understood the local politics from the start.”
Gaucher, his wife Elizabeth and their young daughter are already looking for a home in Middlebury in anticipation of his job-start next month.
“I’m very excited to be coming to Middlebury,” Gauthier said during a telephone interview. “I am very attracted to the opportunity to create something from the ground up. It is also an opportunity for myself and my family to join a community like Middlebury.”
He cited Middlebury’s quality of life as a prime tool he will use in his efforts to woo new companies to the town. And he believes Middlebury College, with its educational and cultural amenities, will also serve as an important magnet in attracting businesses looking to lay down roots in a quality setting. He added it also doesn’t hurt that Middlebury has municipal water and sewer services, as well as a caring a forward-thinking community.
“There seems to be an intellectual infrastructure already in place in Middlebury; a degree of leadership and participation among the citizens of the community that you don’t often see in a community the size of Middlebury; and a public-private partnership between the town government, the college and the business community that you don’t see all the time,” he said. “It’s really a unique opportunity.”
This will be the Gaucher family’s first experience living in Vermont. Gaucher had previously lived in New York, Washington, D.C., and Maine. He has lived in West Virginia for the past 14 years, where he has been focused on bringing new enterprises — with a particular emphasis on high-tech — to the Mountain State.
He noted there are 63 Small Business Development Centers, or SBDCs, throughout the country (including one in Middlebury) that foster economic development. In his role with the West Virginia SBDC, he has had administrative, strategic planning, budget and other varied responsibilities.
Prior to his current job, he was responsible for managing West Virginia’s Small Business Innovative Research program, supervising a statewide “micro-loan” fund for new ventures. Before that, he was responsible for innovation-based economic development and technology-based economic development for the whole state of West Virginia.
“I have a background that is varied; I am kind of a hybrid,” he said. “I have experience working with entrepreneurs and small businesses. I have experience from an administrative perspective that I think will serve me well in Middlebury, and I have the experience of trying to recruit companies and working with companies that were part of an expansion program. That was actually my foundation within economic development.”
Ultimately, Gaucher believes there is no cookie-cutter approach to creating jobs.
“It is really about the community and separating yourself from the rest of the pack,” Gaucher said. “Most of the success that I have had has been centered around being able to craft a unique value proposition for each company or each entity or whatever the proposition might be. If you can craft that unique and valued proposition — just like an entrepreneur would have to address a market opportunity — my opinion is you’re going to have a better chance at success.”
Gaucher realizes Middlebury has a lot riding on his success. According to town records, Middlebury lost 415 manufacturing jobs between 2005 and 2009. The industrial proportion of Middlebury’s grand list has remained at 3.1 percent since 2008. Retail Vision and eCorp English both announced the closing of their respective businesses in 2012.
Townspeople agreed last March, during a tough budget year affected by the recession, to establish a business development fund to stimulate business growth in town. Voters OK’d the fund for a term of five years, agreeing to bankroll it with a penny on the property tax rate (to raise $72,000 per year), along with $72,000 from Middlebury College and $36,000 from the local business community, for a total budget of $180,000 annually. A large chunk of that fund will pay Gaucher’s salary and expenses.
In short, Gaucher will be expected to bring new jobs to town while helping current local enterprises become stronger. He will have access to the college’s alumni Rolodex and other resources to pursue leads.
The Middlebury Development Fund Advisory Board has established a list of first-year expectations for Gaucher. Among them:
• Conduct 55 visits to business leaders/employers and 10 visits to business/civic groups.
• Attend 12 Middlebury College alumni events and make follow-up contacts (an estimated 150).
• Send 650 letters or e-mails to the target audience and follow up personally with each contact.
• Visit 12 business owners/prospects at their business or residence and host six qualified business owners/prospects in Middlebury.
• Close with one business owner/prospect.
Gaucher will report to the selectboard and the Business Development Fund Advisory Board.
G. Kenneth Perine, president of the National Bank of Middlebury and also a member of the advisory board, is pleased to see Gaucher hired.
“What impressed me most about Jamie is his enthusiasm and engaging personality,” Perine said. “He is articulate, has shown an entrepreneurial bent and has demonstrated the ability to work with owners of companies of all sizes. He researched Middlebury thoroughly and asked all the right questions in his interview. We are anxious and excited for him to get to work.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].