Middlebury zeros in on economic development post

MIDDLEBURY — A committee charged with recruiting Middlebury’s first-ever business development director will soon interview a fifth and final candidate before narrowing down the field and introducing a new hire as soon as Town Meeting Day.
“I think we are on a good path,” said John Tenny, a member of the Middlebury Business Development Fund Advisory Board.
“I think we have some very good candidates.”
It was on Town Meeting Day last March that Middlebury voters agreed to establish a business development fund that would be used to stimulate business growth in town. Voters OK’d the fund for a term of five years, bankrolling it with a penny on the property tax rate (to raise $72,000 per year); another $72,000 annually from Middlebury College; and $36,000 from the local business community per annum, for a total of $180,000 each year. The main expense of the fund is to pay the salary, benefits and other supports for a business development director to woo new businesses and good paying jobs to Middlebury, while also helping current local businesses remain stable and expand.
The Middlebury selectboard established a seven-member Development Fund Advisory Board to devise a job description for the business development director and raise financial contributions from the business community.
Advisory board members have thus far interviewed four candidates for the business development director post. A final  hopeful will be interviewed on Jan. 7, according to Tenny.
G. Kenneth Perine, president of the National Bank of Middlebury and also a member of the advisory board, said all five of the applicants are from Northeast, with a “good sampling of people from Vermont.”
After Jan. 7, the advisory board will meet and pick the strongest two or three candidates for face-to-face interviews in Middlebury later this winter. If everything proceeds smoothly, Tenny said the new business development director could be on board by early March.
Once in place, the development director will work with the Middlebury College alumni database and other resources to attract new businesses to Middlebury. The town has been working aggressively to expand its grand list, create new jobs and reverse some discouraging trends. 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.
The Development Fund Advisory Board recently established a list of first-year expectations for the development director. 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.
Most local business owners have been supportive of the Development Fund, according to Tenny and Perine. The business community has thus far made pledges totaling $32,000 toward the annual goal of $36,000, Tenny said.
“I am confident we will close out the last $4,000 to reach our goal,” said Tenny, who added several contributors have already made a pledge toward next year’s $36,000 campaign.
“We have been very pleased with the response from the business community,” Perine said. The most common reaction, he said, has been, “We’re so glad you’ve undertaken this initiative, we support you, and we congratulate you for taking the bull by the horns.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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