Business director: Middlebury to welcome several new businesses
MIDDLEBURY — After two years of dipping Middlebury’s economic development hook in statewide and national waters, Jamie Gaucher is getting some nibbles and has even landed a couple of keepers.
Gaucher, two years into what will be at least a five-year stint as the director of the Middlebury Office of Business Development & Innovation, told participants at Monday’s town meeting about several new, small businesses poised to settle in town, with others waiting in the wings.
Touting it as one in a recent pattern of success stories, Gaucher first hailed the arrival of Full Sun Vermont, a new enterprise that will soon churn out thousands of gallons of non-GMO — and eventually organic — sunflower and canola oils for use in a variety of cooking preparations. Full Sun co-founder Netaka White said the business will eventually employ up to 10 workers in the former home of Vermont Soap on Exchange Street.
Secondly, he mentioned Cloudfarm, which manufactures “seedsheets” — a weed barrier into which seed pods are fastened. The gardener places the sheet over their garden, allowing the plants to germinate. Cloudfarm is the brainchild of Middlebury College graduate Cam MacKugler, who got the idea for the company three years ago and has been nurturing the idea at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies in Middlebury. Gaucher helped unite MacKugler with financial assistance that will allow him to move Cloudfarm into a portion of the former Geiger building (now owned by Durasol) in Middlebury’s industrial park.
Third, Gaucher cited “Rowdy Orbit,” led by Jonathan Moore, which describes itself as a “digital media television platform featuring original, scripted, independent storytelling for the African American and Hispanic online viewing audiences.”
Moore, present at Monday’s town meeting, said he is anxious to set up shop in Middlebury and will provide more details about the company and its mission at that time.
“What we can accomplish by bringing Jonathan Moore here is achieve a degree of economic diversity, with his clients and his work around social entrepreneurship,” Gaucher said. “That’s important, and something we should be proud of as a community.”
Gaucher said he is also working to find a home for Poe Wovens, which is making woven baby wraps to help parents comfortably and stylishly carry their infants or toddlers with less stress. Founder Nancy Sunderland, a mother of five and former Marine, is currently making her products on her family property in Bridport and is now ready to take the next step, according to Gaucher.
Not all of the progress has involved new businesses setting up shop in town, Gaucher noted. He said the parent of two Middlebury College grads has agreed to establish 10 to 20 telecommuting jobs in town for the company Integrated Access Corp. The firm, among other things, helps other businesses market their respective wares.
Finally, Gaucher said a longstanding effort to establish a meat processing facility in Middlebury for Vermont Livestock might finally pay off.
The company, based in Ferrisburgh, has been looking to expand to meet the growing demand for Vermont-raised meats. The state has a shortage of slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities. Vermont Livestock in 2012 proposed building a new facility in Middlebury’s industrial park, then tried to work out a deal to locate in an existing building in the park. But efforts to secure financing for the projects hit some snags along the way.
That’s about to change, according to Gaucher.
“We are engaged with a community development finance organization … and they are going to make a $4 million to $5 million investment out in the Middlebury industrial park,” Gaucher said of the support building for the Vermont Livestock project. “They are going to bring about 20 jobs to Middlebury.”
Also on Gaucher’s plate is managing, with Middlebury Town Planner Eric Blair, an effort to market more than an acre of town-owned land off Bakery Lane to a developer on which to establish a mixed-use enterprise that might include retail, office, residential and parking components. That so-called economic development initiative, or EDI, has attracted four parties who will spend the coming months making their respective pitches for the land, which is the largest undeveloped commercial parcel in the downtown.
It was in March of 2013 that Middlebury residents agreed 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 pays Gaucher’s salary and expenses, as well as various development fund initiatives.
Among the fund’s initiatives: MiddTAP, the Middlebury Technical Assistance Program. It’s a program that provides technical assistance to entrepreneurs developing an innovative product, service or new way of doing something that would fit into the Middlebury business landscape. Gaucher has assembled a panel of local businesspeople to advise MiddTAP clients and provide grants of up to $1,500 that recipients must sweeten with $1,000 of their own. MiddTAP clients must use the money to further their respective business plans, meeting specific goals along the way. Failing to meet those benchmarks or failing to open an office in Middlebury will result in the client having to pay back the $1,500, Gaucher noted.
Recruiting new businesses to Middlebury hasn’t been an entirely easy chore, Gaucher acknowledged. He specifically cited the lack of access to affordable energy and lagging telecommunications infrastructure as among the challenges. He believes Middlebury should not anticipate an influx of businesses of 100 or more employees; the 50-employee range is more in line with reasonable expectations, he believes.
“I believe there are costs associated with a lack of economic diversity in our community,” Gaucher said. “I am trying to build a more durable economy here, locally.”
Gaucher has adhered to three principles in performing his job — reaching out to entrepreneurs outside of Middlebury to encourage them to settle here; cultivating, in particular, innovation and technology-based economic development; and working with Middlebury College to leverage the institution’s considerable assets and contacts to find new business prospects.
“I’m having a great time,” Gaucher said. “My family and I feel very fortunate (to be in Middlebury).”
Middlebury Selectman Nick Artim is a member of the Middlebury Business Development Fund Advisory Board. He said that while Middlebury hasn’t wooed any major enterprises to settle locally during the past two years, he praised Gaucher for laying important groundwork that he believes will soon pay dividends.
That groundwork, according to Artim, has included pushing for upgrades in telecommunication services that business consider vital to do their work, lobbying for natural gas service to cut down operating expenses for prospective firms, and championing what could ultimately be a $10 million state investment in the Middlebury State Airport. The state in 2017 plans to extend, widen and repave the runway of an airport that Gaucher believes could be a hub for transportation-related businesses.
Artim added he’s pleased that Gaucher has taken a lead role in shepherding the EDI project and that he is tailoring his outreach to enterprises that have the right scale and business plan for Middlebury.
“He’s getting an understanding of what opportunities exist in a small college town,” Artim said.
Artim travels a lot in his capacity as a fire prevention consultant. He invariably meets many businesspeople during his travels, many of whom know about Middlebury and its qualities. Artim gets business cards from a lot of these folks that he passes on to Gaucher for call-backs.
Those call-backs, Artim believes, will result in some new business activity in Middlebury this year.
“It’s been fascinating to see the guy work,” Artim said of Gaucher’s enthusiasm and outreach efforts. “He’s helping the rest of the state understand how Middlebury fits into the world.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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