Kick Start Middlebury fund reaches $110,000
There are so many resources that are now tied to this program. If there was ever a time for a business to consider Middlebury, they’re never going to have as much support and potential access to funds as they are right now.
— Karen Duguay of the Better Middlebury Partnership
MIDDLEBURY — A new incentive program aimed at filling Middlebury’s downtown storefront vacancies has thus far wooed five aspiring entrepreneurs, and organizers were thrilled to report on Monday that Kick Start Middlebury now has $110,000 with which to assist new business ventures.
Thanks to two recent gifts, that’s more than twice the initial $50,000 in seed money provided by the town.
“After a $10,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Middlebury last week and now Table 21’s match to the town’s initial $50,000 investment, we are absolutely thrilled to offer interested businesses a sizeable incentive to consider Middlebury,” said Karen Duguay, executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP).
“All in all, having a $110,000 budget was beyond my wildest dreams only a few weeks ago.”
Kick Start Middlebury is a collaboration of the BMP, Addison County Economic Development Corp., Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Small Business Development Center and Middlebury College.
Patterned after a similar program in Wilmington, Kick Start will award incentive packages to up to five stores committed to making downtown Middlebury their home. Each package was to have included a $10,000 grant and additional supports (up to a $5,000 in value) for such things as marketing, advertising, printing, and consulting services.
But now, with the new infusion of funds, Kick Start will be able to double the incentive grants to $20,000, plus the $5,000 in supports, to offer a difference-making package for those attempting to launch a new venture in Middlebury.
An independent panel of local business owners, community members and economic development organizations will choose grant winners based on several criteria, such as financial projections, viability, sustainability, diversity and job creation.
Duguay said there are more than 10 storefront vacancies to fill in the core Middlebury Village area. Causes for the vacancies include natural turnover, consumers transitioning to online purchases, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disruption caused by the downtown Middlebury railroad tunnel project.
With the tunnel project ending this August and a mass vaccination program aimed at turning the COVID tide, local economic development officials believe the stars are aligning for a resurgence in the Middlebury business scene. The BMP has great partners in the Kick Start program, including the Addison County Small Business Development Center — which can provide one-on-one coaching for those considering business startups — and The Center for Women & Enterprise, which can extend marketing help and other services.
“There are so many resources that are now tied to this program,” Duguay said. “If there was ever a time for a business to consider Middlebury, they’re never going to have as much support and potential access to funds as they are right now.”
Duguay conceded downtown rents don’t come cheap. Still, she’s hopeful new tenants can form solid relationships with landlords that will lead to lengthy, profitable stays for all concerned.
“I think everyone is on the same page about the urgency of wanting to find the businesses that are going to have the most success for the longest amount of time,” she said. “The landlords don’t want to see any business fail, either.”
Kick Start has already stirred up a lot of interest in town, to the point where Duguay is optimistic about attracting investment even from applicants who don’t win a grant. She’s been approached by private investors simply looking for good ideas.
“We need all the ideas; send them to us,” she said.
Kick Start also wants to hear from people whose promising ideas might be a year or so away from implementation. Such folks will be able to get a clear sense of what it will take to put their plans into motion once they’re ready.
“We can at least put you in touch with the right people,” Duguay said.
SOURCES OF FUNDS
All of this is being made possible by three funding sources, to which Duguay expressed much gratitude. The town dipped into its Business Development Fund to come up with its $50,000. Table 21, a new nonprofit that will be disbursing $350,000 in COVID-relief donations from an anonymous benefactor, matched the town’s commitment (see related story on Page 1A). And the Rotary Club came through with a vital $10,000.
Maureen Conrad, president of the Rotary Club of Middlebury, explained the thinking behind the group’s Kick Start gift.
“As soon as we heard about this opportunity, we knew that we wanted to be involved,” she said. “We have had a long history of supporting nonprofit organizations through our grant and donation programs and with the challenges of COVID-19 and the downtown construction project we have been looking for ways to also assist the business community, which has always been so supportive of us.
“Business owners have given generously to our online auction, golf tournament, flag project and other activities for years and we have always been appreciative of their support. We are hopeful that our gift will inspire other civic organizations to participate in this unique opportunity.”
The deadline to send in a letter of interest to Kick Start is April 23. More information can be found on at kickstartmiddlebury.com.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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