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County chamber recognizes tops in the business community

Fred Kenney, Karen Dugay and Dr. Mark Basol

MIDDLEBURY — The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic played a bit role in who received year-end honors at the annual Addison County Chamber of Commerce awards celebration this past Thursday morning. Three local leaders where honored:

  • Karen Dugay was named the Buster Brush Citizen of the Year for her tireless efforts to bolster downtown Middlebury through the pandemic and its four years of construction related to the railway tunnel and reconstruction.
  • Fred Kenney, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corporation received the Community Achievement Award for his nonprofit’s work to help dozens of businesses process aid and grant submissions.
  • Dr. Mark Basol of the Vergennes Animal Hospital received the Business of the Year Award to recognize the community service provided and exceptional growth of the firm over the past few years.

The awards were made to about 50 chamber members following a breakfast meeting at the Middlebury Inn. Phil Summers, who took over the role as the chamber’s executive director this month, introduced the awards.

Karen Dugay and Nancy Malcolm

CITIZEN OF THE YEAR

Dugay’s numerous accomplishments and activities to boost Middlebury’s downtown were outlined by Nancy Malcolm, who, along with Linda Horn and Dugay, spearheaded the community action group called Neighbors, Together.

“For the past seven years Karen has helped lead Neighbors, Together as they worked to help mitigate the negative effects of the downtown rail and bridge project,” Malcolm said. “In her role as executive administrator of the Better Middlebury Partnership, she took on the challenge of being the Neighbors, Together administrator and was a valued ‘leg’ of the three- legged stool that oversaw the stakeholder group.

“In this capacity she administered/managed/organized the grant monies as well as many of the group’s programs and initiatives, including overseeing a visitor-driven regional marketing campaign that reached millions, shopping and dining incentives that conservatively yielded over $615,000 in direct economic impact on local businesses, community building events including block parties, outdoor concerts, movies, and the Bundle pop-up event space.

“Over 1,500 volunteers donated thousands of hours of time to ensure our community’s continued vibrancy. To say that this could not have happened without Karen would be an understatement. She continually went above and beyond duty to make it a success.”

Malcolm also lauded Dugay’s efforts over the past year-and-a-half during the uncertainties of the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, Karen adapted events, (calling audibles, as we say), brought forward new ideas and engaged partners from around the region and the state to better meet the needs of our community,” Malcolm said. “ She supported businesses by hosting business roundtables and connecting businesses with opportunities for direct financial assistance. In early 2021, Karen gathered local business owners, community members and economic development professionals together to launch ‘Kick Start Middlebury,’ a recruiting program to offer new businesses a monetary incentive to fill empty downtown storefronts. That program awarded grants to six businesses; all of which are now in various stages of launch.

“One of the core objectives of the Better Middlebury Partnership,” Malcolm continued, “is to create opportunities for people to feel connected to their community. Throughout her nearly nine years with the organization, Karen has proven herself invaluable at building partnerships and creating those connections. She is deeply invested in the success of her community and continually seeks to inspire others to feel the same. She understands that the community is larger than just our immediate geography and she approaches all challenges with professionalism.”

Equally importantly, Malcolm said, “Karen is always willing to share her time, ideas and to give a helping hand… She understands the need for collaboration amongst organizations and the towns in Addison County and the state. She knows just about everyone and people want her involvement. It is commonplace to see her having coffee with Lloyd Komesar, a meeting with Amey Ryan, a chat with Brian Carpenter, a phone conversation with Gary Halloway, or an off-the-cuff television interview downtown — all to better promote our community. She knows when to ask questions and to seek advice. She knows the value of person-to-person contact. Her enthusiasm is contagious, her smile lights up a room. We are indeed fortunate to have her in our community.”

Malcolm concluded, “She truly loves this community.”

Bob Feuerstein and Mark Basol

BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

In an impressive feat of growth during the pandemic, the Vergennes Animal Hospital added five new employees this past year and is making plans to build a 1,100-square-foot expansion to their existing building and hire another four to five employees in the near future.

Bob Feuerstein, owner of the Kennedy Brothers Building in Vergennes, made the presentation of the Business of the Year award to Dr. Basol, recalling the practice’s history since its start in 1940.

“Dr. Mark Basol came to the practice in 1987 — a flatlander from Iowa who came to Vermont for its skiing — joining Dr. Joe Klopfenstein as a partner,” Feuerstein recalled. “As the demand for specialty veterinary services grew, the business was split into two entities in 2005 with Dr. Basol taking over the VAH name and operation the small animal practice as it is today. Dr. Greg Carlton joined VAH in 2013 and has since become a partner in the practice. In addition to Drs. Basol and Carlton, three full-time associate veterinarians — Drs. Rebecca Sevy, Carrie Olsen and Roberta Hemmer — are employed as well.

“A steady increase in pet ownership has led to increased employment opportunities for professional, administration and technical staff. The practice has grown from a staff of eight in 1994 to now employing 18 people, five of whom were added just this year. With an annual payroll that exceeds $1 million, VAH adds to the local economy through employee patronage and purchasing power for all area businesses…. And is a long-time supporter of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, the Vergennes Partnership, the Bixby Memorial Free Library and the Vergennes Opera House.”

Fred Kenney and Adam Lougee

COMMUNITY ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

For many businesses most affected by the pandemic, federal and state aid was an important factor in helping those businesses stay afloat throughout the pandemic when much of the economy was shut down. Kenney and the nonprofit Addison County Economic Development Corporation was there to provide critical services for many.

Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee presented the Chamber’s Community Achievement Award to Fred Kenney, which is given to a non-profit organization “for outstanding leadership to the community.”

Lougee outlined some of the highlights Kenney and his team provided, including:

  • In addition to ACEDC’s members, borrowers, and regular list of businesses with whom they communicate, ACEDC added a list of more than 260 very small and small businesses that received regular relief updates regarding state and federal grants and loans, state mandates and guidance, availability of personal protective equipment, and local resources.
  • ACEDC acted as intermediary, passing information to Addison County businesses and partners and regularly brought regional concerns to the state legislative delegation, federal congressional delegation, and program administrators.
  • They provided direct assistance to at least 30 businesses, providing project development, project management services, financial consulting, and grant writing assistance.
  • 15 grant applications were written to state and federal programs, with 12 successful grants bringing $374,000 to the region.
  • “Successful application to USDA/Rural Development bringing $500,000 to Addison County to recapitalize the ACEDC Revolving Loan Fund.
  • Developed several successful regional partnerships.
  • Worked with the county regional planning commission on a four-region Comprehensive Economic Development strategy process, and
  • Did research and grant writing for Maple Broadband, the communications union district that plans to spread availability of broadband internet.

Lougee also noted that Kenney is chair of the Middlebury Economic Health Committee, and did “extensive business advocacy at congressional, Vermont Legislature and municipal levels, including testimony in several committees.”

Phil Summers

What was extraordinary, Lougee added, was that Kenney worked much of the year on his own, enduring the labor shortages many are facing, and is just now bringing on new staff.

Saying that “ACEDC is Fred Kenney,” Lougee recalled that “he brings over 30 years of business and public administration experience at the state and federal levels, including 20 years in economic development. After running an inn, restaurant, pub, and working in real estate and construction in the Sugarbush area, Fred served on Sen. Patrick Leahy’s staff for 13 years, including Sen. Leahy’s personal office in Washington, D.C., and as assistant clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee staff.

“Fred then moved his family back to Vermont and provided constituent services in Sen, Leahy’s Burlington office and provided outreach in the areas of business, economic development, housing, and transportation from the senator’s Montpelier office. In 2001, Fred was appointed as executive director of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, providing statewide economic development strategic planning, and administering the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program, the Tax Increment Financing Program, and other programs for the Vermont Agency of Commerce.

“Fred has served as executive director of ACEDC since November 2017, served on the Bolton School Board, including several years as chair, and is currently president of With Love from Vermont, a Vermont nonprofit that since 2012 has partnered with Feed My Starving Children to pack and send over 1.3 million meals to starving children around the world and collect tons of non-perishable food for local food shelves.”

In comments applicable to all award winners at the event, Kenney thanked the chamber for the award.

“We all did what we could to assist individuals, the community and businesses” to get through the past year and survive, if not thrive, he said. “But the true heroes are those in our community who came together to help each other and the business owners and entrepreneurs who persevered. ACEDC is proud to have been a part of those efforts.”

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