New funding devoted to job creation in Addison County

MIDDLEBURY — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy was joined by a phalanx of local, state and regional economic development officials at the Middlebury Town Offices on Thursday to announce a major expansion of a federal program designed to spur business grown in rural areas, including Addison County.
Vermont’s senior senator, along with Deputy Vermont Commerce Secretary Ted Brady, said that the federal Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) was expanded to make all communities in Vermont eligible for grants to fund infrastructure and other things that aid economic development.
“Every good idea in Vermont is now eligible for grant money,” Brady said.
The NBRC is a federal-state partnership with a mission to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private-sector job creation throughout portions of Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York.
The NBRC was created in the 2008 federal farm bill and in Vermont only covered the northernmost counties. The 2018 farm bill, signed into law in December, expanded the NBRC to include all of Vermont and greatly expanded the amount of money available to $35 million.
Leahy said the commission made sense because the regions of the four states it covers share in common strong agricultural and forest industries as well as unbelievable natural beauty.
“The challenge is how do we address economic development but still maintain these as great places to live,” Leahy said.
Vermont, like northern New York, New Hampshire and Maine, also face similar economic development challenges, he noted. The senator mentioned that these rural areas all hosted forestry businesses that have been hurt by international competition, and they all share the need for universal high-speed access to the internet to spur innovation annd economic growth.
Leahy stressed that the economic development goals won’t be reached with a top-down approach, but success will come through partnerships between federal/state government and local entrepreneurs. He pointed to the work of ACEDC Executive Directory Fred Kenney as an example of how that process works.
“Fred will tell you that you have to have the people who will come in and say, ‘Have you tried this yet?’” Leahy said. “I’ll get you the money, you have to do the work.”
Leahy pointed to success stories in northern Vermont, such as an abandoned Scrabble tile factory in Fairfax that got an infrastructure makeover to make it suitable for new manufacturers. He also pointed to a hiking trail in Newport designed to attract tourists.
“I’ve seen so much it has done in the northern counties, now we will have this for the whole state, including Addison County,” he said.
In his role as vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy secured $25 million in funding to assist communities in the Commission territory during the 2019 federal fiscal year. The resources include $20 million in core NBRC funding, a $3 million partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration and a $2 million partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Dean of the U.S. Senate, Leahy said that with his seniority he can guarantee that the money will be available to Vermonters for at least this coming year and hopefully longer.
Eligible applicants include public or non-profit entities. Applications for grant funding can focus on projects in any of the following program areas: transportation infrastructure; public infrastructure; telecommunications infrastructure; workforce development; entrepreneurship, businesses and technology development; resources and open space conservation, tourism and recreation; and renewable and alternative energy.
OFFICIALS AT THE Middlebury Town Offices on Thursday announced an expanded Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal economic development program designed to spur business growth in rural areas, including Addison County. Shown are Leahy aide and Middlebury native Chris Saunders, left, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Addison County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Fred Kenney, and Vermont Deputy Commerce Secretary Ted Brady.
Independent photo/Angelo Lynn
Interested applicants are encouraged to submit a Letter of Notification to Apply by March 29, so that State Program Managers and Local Development Districts are aware of your project and can assist you better through the process. Applications will be available March 8 on the NBRC’s website — nbrc.gov.
About 15-20 people attended an informational session before Leahy’s visit Thursday morning, including representatives from Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol. Tim Tierney from the Department of Economic Development provided information to potential applicants for the 2019 NBRC grant round. Points of discussion will include the goals of the NBRC, the application process and the scoring criteria used by reviewers.
Among the topics discussed was the possibility of getting grant money to fund major repairs to the municipal water system on Exchange Street in Middlebury, Kenney said. The need for such repairs was obvious last month when a burst water main resulted in a day’s closure of operations for at least two big local employers — Vermont Hard Cider and Otter Creek Brewing.
“We will do this through partnerships,” Kenney said. “We will strengthen the area to make it attractive to entrepreneurs.”
Watch the full press conference below.

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