Embracing economic vitality

In local business news, the discovery of a contaminant underneath the foundation of the Conner Homes building on Route 7 south in Middlebury, and the consequent and reasonable decision by Middlebury-based Green Mountain Beverage to call off the deal to purchase the building, poses new challenges for both enterprises — and the town. (See story Page 1A.)
Green Mountain Beverage, the makers of Woodchuck Cider and other hard cider products that now dominate 60 percent of the national market, has immediate needs to ramp up production and build a facility capable of handling that expanded capacity. Conner Homes, caught in the national recession that has hammered the home-building industry, faces tough times if it is to weather today’s depressed market and come out lean and strong down the road.
The town’s role in each of these two affairs may be small, but it’s vital.
First, the expression of unqualified support is essential and has already been communicated by town officials. Second, discussion of any tax credits that can reasonably be extended to either business should be considered (the credits previously extended to GMB have remained in force), and, third, we would hope that discussion of any problems are brought to the fore soon enough so that creative solutions can be found.
What community leaders in Middlebury know all too well is that good jobs are hard to attract, and that it’s worthwhile to go the extra mile to keep companies with bright futures ahead of them as happy and financially healthy as possible. That’s because these industries contribute immensely to the town’s grand list, to the water-sewer fund, and add well-paid employees to the community, who, in turn, prop up the housing market (therefore helping to spread out the property tax burden) and boost local businesses and professionals with everyday purchases. Money circulates and the more it circulates (to a scale fitting of Middlebury), the healthier the community will be. The opposite is true as well.
Conner Homes, in particular, faces a tough short-term economy and had the misfortune of expanding just before the housing market started to collapse, and yet they have a superior product with a strong management team. GMB, on the other hand, is booming. Middlebury’s challenge there is to provide them the infrastructure they need and a timely permitting process that facilitates responsible growth.
How well the town and business community can manage this dual challenge will say much about the town’s willingness to embrace its own economic development future. That is a future that rests with our own ability to make things happen, and not expecting state or federal help to do the job for us.
Angelo S. Lynn

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