Group sharpens plan for development head

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Monday received an update on an ad hoc committee’s effort to define a proposed new town position of “director of business development.”
The person holding that post — which would need approval from town voters as soon as next March — would be charged with creating, recruiting and retaining high-quality jobs in Middlebury.
Town officials this past summer tasked Middlebury College student intern Ryan Kim with interviewing the local business community as part of a research project into whether there a director of business development would be beneficial to the community.
The answer was a resounding yes, according to Kim’s findings. That led to further study of the idea by a committee that includes, among others, Better Middlebury Partnership President Donna Donahue, Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Robin Scheu, and local businessman Jim Robinson.
Robinson on Monday presented the selectboard with the panel’s research to date. The committee, Robinson said, envisions the economic development director as someone who would focus on getting businesses to grow in or relocate to Middlebury, rather than simply promoting the area.
The person would work hand-in-hand with the local business community and the Middlebury College alumni network to mine prospects. It is a position, Robinson said, that would be accountable to an independent board that would set performance targets.
“The focus will be on generating actionable opportunities, not just getting the message out or putting out brochures,” Robinson said.
Donahue said the position could do a lot of good for the town’s economic well-being.
“This is the missing component we are talking about,” Donahue said. “What we don’t have is targeted recruitment.”
The estimated budget for the job, which would be piloted for a minimum five-year period in order to attract top talent, would be $100,000 to $200,000 per year. The town would pick up 50 percent of the tab, while tentative plans call for Middlebury College and the business community to divide the other half.
Robinson said the committee is now looking for feedback on its way to defining, among other things, criteria of success that would be expected of the director of business development.
Selectboard Chairman John Tenny said the town would have to make a strong case for the new position if it is to win support among taxpayers. The town’s financial commitment to the job would amount to a penny on the property tax rate each year.
“We know that we enjoy support when we show good value in how money is spent,” Tenny said.
Committee members will return to the board later this fall to further define the position.
“I would support it wholeheartedly if we have a more explicit description of how the public will benefit from it,” Selectman Victor Nuovo said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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