Board ends Gaucher contract early: Says program fell short of targets

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday informed Jamie Gaucher, executive director of the town’s Office of Business Development & Innovation, that he will be out of a job effective June 30.
The board voted 6-1, with Selectman Nick Artim opposed, to end Gaucher’s employment four years into what had been envisioned as a minimum five-year stint coordinating the town’s economic development efforts through the Middlebury Business Development Fund (MBDF).
“As you know, through the work of the Middlebury Business Development Initiative Review Task Force, the selectboard determined the town’s current economic development initiative is not working as anticipated and needs to be reorganized,” reads a Feb. 27 letter from selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter informing Gaucher of his dismissal. “Accordingly, the selectboard has decided to disband the current economic development effort, which includes eliminating the position of economic development director.”
During a brief phone interview Wednesday morning, Carpenter said the decision to eliminate Gaucher’s position simply puts into motion the board’s previously stated plans to shift its course on economic development.
“We had already pretty much decided that by the end of June we wanted a new way forward, but we didn’t have a determination of what that would mean for Jamie,” Carpenter said.
So the board took Monday’s vote and sent the termination letter to Gaucher in order to give him a firm signal on the future of his current job, Carpenter said.
Gaucher will be welcome to apply for any new economic development position the town might advertise in the future. according to Carpenter.
The board at one point considered allowing the MBDF to continue operating for a fifth year using its accumulated surplus. The panel ultimately decided against that course and instead decided to form a new committee to chart a less ambitious  economic development path for the town.
Selectwoman Heather Seeley is chairing that committee.
Gaucher on Wednesday gave the following reaction to the board’s decision to end his job:
“This decision (to fire) was not at the recommendation of the town manager, was not at the recommendation of the MBDF Advisory Board, and was not at the recommendation of the (MBDF Review) Task Force,” he said. “This is strictly a decision by the selectboard.”
Artim, who opposed Gaucher’s dismissal, headed up the MBDF Review Task Force. Efforts to reach Artim were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday.
The MBDF was created in 2012 to draw new businesses to Middlebury and help existing concerns. The MBDF has been jointly funded by Middlebury College, the local business community, and revenues from a penny on the municipal tax rate. Those sources created a total annual budget of around $180,000.
But the selectboard last year began to re-evaluate the MBDF because it was not meeting the expectations that town officials had set for the endeavor. Organizers had set a year-one goal of attracting visits from 12 “qualified” prospects, and sealing the deal on a business relocation, satellite office or a new business start.
Four years later, however, the MBDF has not created enough new businesses to warrant continuation in its present form, according to a majority of the selectboard. And it didn’t help matters when Connor Homes on Route 7 closed this past December, laying off its 63 workers.
“I don’t feel comfortable giving something that has been going on for close to four years another full year of continuation, knowing we haven’t achieved our goals to date,” Carpenter said at a Jan. 24 selectboard meeting of his desire to shake up the current economic development strategy.
Gaucher was also this past August involved in a Town Hall scuffle with a disgruntled applicant for MBDF funding. Gaucher and the applicant, named Rocket, were both cited for disorderly conduct and accepted court diversion. Selectboard deliberations on Gaucher’s future were held behind closed doors, and the letter to Gaucher made no mention of the incident.
Gaucher has defended his track record. He said he helped such local start-up businesses as Seedsheet and Full Sun. Gaucher also touted his contributions in lining up business prospects for a town-owned parcel of land behind the Ilsley Library, and in helping Aqua ViTea plan a potential hub for beverage businesses in Middlebury’s industrial park.
Gaucher has also promoted improvements to the Middlebury State Airport in an effort to make it a landing point for more aviation-related businesses.
Ultimately, Gaucher believes the town’s efforts to attract larger businesses won’t be fruitful until it is able to improve its infrastructure, including affordable housing, local roads, municipal water and broadband capabilities.
The selectboard unanimously hired Gaucher to become Middlebury’s first business development director back in February of 2013. He was at the time serving as deputy chief of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center. A community advisory board selected him from among three finalists to interview for the new  job.
Gaucher is now looking for a new job — and he’d like to remain in the Middlebury area.
“I’m still very bullish on Middlebury,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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