Middlebury sets business development goals

MIDDLEBURY —  A local advisory board has been collecting facts and figures about the sluggish regional economy in an effort to convince the Middlebury business community about the importance of contributing toward a new business development director charged with bringing new jobs to town.
It was at town meeting this past March that resident endorsed the creation of a business development fund that would in large part be used to recruit and hire a director. That person will be charged with recruiting new businesses to Middlebury and helping current enterprises prosper and grow.
Townspeople agreed to back the position over a period of five years through an annual cent on the municipal tax rate, generating around $72,000. Middlebury College agreed to match that sum — and share its alumni database for the business development director to tap for potential business leads. And the local business community is being asked to chip in $36,000 each year in in-kind and financial contributions. It is this latter funding ingredient that the ad hoc Middlebury Business Development Fund Advisory Board is focusing on right now.
“We know we will have to carefully explain this to the business community at a time when virtually all of us are struggling,” said John Tenny, one of seven members of the advisory board.
“‘What’s in it for me?’ is something we have to be prepared to answer.”
To that end, the board has been compiling some statistical data about the economy, information it believes could help sway local business owners in chipping in to the $36,000 fundraising effort.
Among facts and figures compiled by the board, with the assistance recent Middlebury College graduate Lydia Jun, were:
•  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. The value of the grand list — the list of property in a town subject to property taxes — increased from $6,956,899,000 to $7,069,235,000 between 2008 and 2011.
•  Middlebury’s unemployment rate was 5 percent during this past June, up from 4 percent in May and down slightly from the 5.3 percent recorded during June of 2011, according to state statistics.
•  The median income for the average Middlebury household averaged $44,432 from 2006 to 2010, which was less than the statewide average of $51,841 during the same period. It should be noted that this figure includes Middlebury College students.
•  There were 6,808 Addison County residents in the 20-34 age group in 2000. That number was down to 6,331 in 2009 as the young, entry-level workers have been looking elsewhere for jobs, economists indicate.
Advisory board members will be making their pitch to the business community as part of a schedule that calls for the business development director position to be advertised this fall. Interviews are to be held in November, with the recommendation of a finalist to the selectboard by mid-December. The new hire is expected to be on the job by early March 2013.
In the meantime, town officials are drawing up a list of expectations for the business development director. The advisory board is expecting that within his or her first year, the director will have:
•  Established working relations with local, state and regional economic players; education leaders;  and business organizations; and conducted 25 meetings with those entities to gather input on job creation strategies.
•  Conducted 55 visits to business leaders/employers and 10 visits to business/civic groups.
•  Developed recruitment materials and deployed lead-tracking software.
•  Hosted a “Think Tank” and five meetings with Middlebury College development and alumni staff. The director will also be expected to have published four articles (or advertisements) in “Middlebury Magazine” and other publications and followed up on business inquiries. The director will have also attended 12 alumni events and made follow-up contacts (an estimated 150).
•  Sent 650 letters or e-mails to target audiences and followed up personally with each contact, plus additional follow-up as required.
•  Cultivated viable opportunities.
•  Visited 12 business owners/prospects at their business or residence, and hosted six qualified business owners/prospects in Middlebury.
•  Close with one business owner/prospect.
The next meeting of the Middlebury Business Development Fund Advisory Board is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 3:30 p.m. in then municipal building conference room.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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