Middlebury taking new approach to attracting businesses

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard is forming a committee to develop a new formula for attracting businesses to town and supporting those that are already here.
The new panel, to be chaired by Selectwoman Heather Seeley, will have nine or 11 members who are either knowledgeable about Middlebury’s business scene or its planning priorities, or both. The group will interview local business leaders and ultimately come up with a set of recommendations for the selectboard to adopt.
“This is our second-level review,” selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said during his speaker-phone participation at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting.
Middlebury’s first economic development effort included creation of a Middlebury Economic Development Fund (MBDF), with a paid director and some ambitious benchmarks.
Its first-year goals included visits from 12 business prospects, with the goal of attracting one business relocation, satellite office or one new business start in that first year.
But four years into the MBDF process — which has been funded through a local 1-cent tax and contributions from Middlebury College and the business community — the town has little to show for its efforts, according to town leaders. At the same time, Connor Homes late last year closed its doors, laying off its 63 workers.
“There’s a consensus that we have not hit our intended goals, and fallen quite short,” Carpenter said.
An MBDF study committee proposed, among other things, that the town consider a new economic development policy with more restrained expectations. That process began on Tuesday with the board reviewing a list of potential members of the new “Economic Health Task Force.”
Potential members include such folks as Vermont Book Shop owner Becky Dayton; Matt Curran of Middlebury College’s economic department; Dan Brown of the Swift House Inn; Seeley and fellow Selectman Nick Artim; Addison County Economic Development Corp. (and Middlebury House Rep.) Robin Scheu; Karen Duguay, coordinator of the Better Middlebury Partnership; Nancie Dunn of Sweet Cecily on Main Street; and Rodney Mills of Agri-Mark/Cabot.
Seeley will meet with prospective members and determine whether the panel should have nine or 11 members. The committee might also carry adjunct non-voting members with expertise on specific business topics.
“This is a tremendous slate of names,” Carpenter said.
Seeley promised to have good representation on the committee, including from people whose voices are not often heard.
“I want to make sure I give everyone an opportunity to give their input,” Seeley said.
Local resident Ross Conrad urged the new group to consider ways of promoting more community-owned and employee-owned businesses.
“They provide more stability,” Conrad said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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