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Selectboard reviewing development initiative

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously agreed to form a subcommittee to review the track record of the town’s Office of Business Development & Innovation this fall and recommend potential changes to the initiative, currently slated for a five-year re-authorization by local voters next March.
It was at the 2012 March town meeting that local voters authorized, for a period of five years, adding a penny (then $72,000) annually to their municipal tax rate to support economic development efforts in the community. Middlebury College agreed to match the $72,000, and the business community also sweetened the pot, to produce a total, annual operating budget of $200,000 for the Middlebury Business Development Fund, known as the MBDF.
The fund finances the salary of Business Development & Innovation Office Director Jamie Gaucher, related expenses, and some grant opportunities for growing enterprises. An MBDF Advisory Board helps oversee the office’s activities.
The MBDF office is currently operating without Gaucher, who is on paid administrative leave (see related story, below).
“We’re coming up to our last year (for the MBDF), and we’ll have to look at what we want to do with the position as we go forward,” selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said.
He suggested a panel of four or five members could review the short history of the MBDF, including its performance and how it fits into the town government structure and mission. He also suggested the subcommittee could examine how the MBDF is currently funded and whether it could be subsidized in a different manner.
The subcommittee will present its findings and an overall recommendation to the selectboard by this December — a time at which the panel usually completes the warning for the ensuring March town meeting.
Carpenter nominated Selectwoman Donna Donahue, Selectman Nick Artim and retired National Bank of Middlebury President Ken Perine to serve on the new subcommittee. He also proposed giving a spot to a Middlebury College representative. Selectwoman Susan Shashok said she would also like to see a local business owner on the committee, specifically citing Sivan Cotel of Stonecutter Spirits. Board members agreed to cap the subcommittee at five members, a number they believe will lead to a speedier review of the MBDF issue. Selectman Victor Nuovo added the panel could expand its knowledge of the local commerce by inviting business representatives in to talk about economic development.
Donahue backed the evaluation of the MBDF office, which she said is but one of several players in the local economic development scene.
“I think you need to ask questions of all the people who were involved, and see if it worked or didn’t work,” Donahue said.
Resident Lorie Mackey, a local entrepreneur, said she, too, was eager to find out more about the MBDF.
“My sense is that there’s been confusion about what it was supposed to do from the community end,” said Mackey, who added she’d like to see more emphasis placed on helping small businesses grow in Middlebury.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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