Middlebury to be featured in Northeastern regional economic recovery study

MIDDLEBURY — The small town of Middlebury will have a big impact in shaping the Northeast’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
Fred Kenney, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp., said Middlebury has been selected as one of only three Vermont communities that will participate in a federally funded survey, through which local business leaders and municipal officials will be asked their most pressing needs in order to rebound from the financial devastation wrought by COVID-19.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) District 1 has hired the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) out of Northeastern University to conduct the survey, involving three communities in each of the Northeast states. As of this writing, two of the three Vermont towns had been identified: Middlebury and Bennington. Kenney said the third is likely to be a more urban area, such as Burlington or Rutland.
“They’re trying to give a mix of rural versus urban, in terms of economic profiles,” Kenney said.
Middlebury, he believes, became a logical candidate due to the diversity of its economy. The county’s shire town is home to Middlebury College, small retailers, agricultural enterprises and a nice blend of industries that includes Vermont Hard Cider, Otter Creek Brewing and Agri-Mark/Cabot.
Kenney will serve as the GRI’s local contact as it interviews community leaders and business people about their respective economic recovery needs. The list of interviewees will be 30-40, and will include selectboard members, town staff, various entrepreneurs, Middlebury College officials, Addison County Chamber of Commerce leaders, Addison County Regional Planning Commission representatives, and others.
“I tried to hit every sector,” Kenney said of the interviewees. “Hospitality, banking, real estate, retail, manufacturing — everything from ‘mom and pop’ right up to the 40- to 50-person business.”
The GRI team will compile the feedback into a report that will be given to state and federal economic recovery authorities in charge of disbursing COVID-19 recovery funds.
“It will inform the way the federal agencies are distributing the assistance they already have available,” Kenney said. “The USDA already has $3 billion they’re taking applications for. It will also help inform future aid packages that Congress considers.”
The survey will include the economic wish lists of a representative sample of 18 Northeast communities surveyed.
“A lot of the other towns they’re looking at are pretty urban,” Kenney said. “(Middlebury) will give them more of a flavor of what rural areas’ needs are.
“And with only three communities from each state, we’re going to have a pretty good voice in what the needs are,” he added.
Kenney stressed, however, that Middlebury won’t have a leg up on federal assistance by virtue of its participation in the GRI survey.
“It doesn’t give us a leg up for assistance,” he said. “We’re helping with the cause of identifying what the needs are.”
Global Resilience Institute, according to Kenney, wants to wrap up its interviews and findings by mid-June.
Meanwhile, the Addison County Recovery Team is going over the results of its own survey of the local economy.
The team will present the results at a town hall meeting via Zoom next Tuesday. Audience participation is encouraged.

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