BENNINGTON -- The Bennington County Industrial Corporation held its 56th annual shareholders and board members meeting at Mount Anthony Country Club on Wednesday with a focus on recent news and the resilience of Bennington County's economy.

After reading the president's report, Robert Plunkett Jr.commented about the closing of Plasan Carbon Composite's Bennington facility. "We still have several carbon composite manufacturers here, therefore we do still have a cluster," said Plunkett. "Bennington County will continue to have a carbon composites cluster, and it will continue to be a priority for BCIC as our belief that the trends of lighter, stronger, faster and more fuel efficient products are in the early stages of rolling out.

BCIC Executive Director Peter Odierna addresses shareholders and board members with his report at the 56th annual luncheon.
BCIC Executive Director Peter Odierna addresses shareholders and board members with his report at the 56th annual luncheon. (Tom Momberg)
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BCIC Executive Director Peter Odierna said he has full faith that without Plasan, Bennington will recover. "For all intents and purposes we have no empty industrial buildings in Bennington County," he said. "Next month, that dynamic will change as Plasan Carbon Composites will close their local facility to consolidate in Michigan without question this is a setback. It is also the part of the economic development cycle."

Odierna said many large companies have closed in his time here. "In my opinion, the companies that we have worked with to repopulate those facilities are more dynamic than the ones who have left. So, in my view, that whole cycle of those plant closures is the case of taking one step backwards to take two steps forward," he said.

BCIC Board Officer Dimitri Gardner said Vermont deals with its share of other problems, all of which have an impact on the economy. "As we know, Bennington has had no shortage of unfortunate news," he said. "The press over the past couple of months have made it a tough year for us: The announced departure of Plasan as well as the unfortunate national headlines on drugs it clearly reflects on the poor decision-making of a few rather than of the community as a whole, nevertheless we are dealing with the national attention this has put on our community."

Gardner said the community cannot make adversity go away, but can do its best to control it. "Resilience is how we respond to a disaster or an adverse situation. I'm seeing a tremendous amount of that resilience come from our community," he said.

Gardner said he thinks the state is playing a leadership role in the U.S. in how it responds to some challenges with drug abuse and economic change.

There has been a renewed focus of recruitment in the economic development sphere in Vermont. Odierna said it's difficult for the BCIC to do. "I think it is common that most folks understand that our baseline funding comes from the state of Vermont."

With BCIC's state funding comes a contract for retention and expansion of the companies in Bennington County. There is only little in the corporation's budget for marketing and recruitment.

"We have a community in our service territory that really wants to push the pedal down on recruitment," Odierna said. "Right now we are not really structured for a robust recruitment campaign, however that could change if that particular community gives us a line item to work with."

State funding and effort in the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive has diminished as the wage threshold has increased. Odierna is convinced that if the minimum wage is increased, that the wage threshold will continue to rise, and it makes the economic climate in Vermont uncertain, which he said is extremely difficult for businesses to plan around.

"One of the interesting things that (state representatives and senators) had mentioned is that most of the comments from their constituents have had to do with GMOs or the heroin problem," Odierna said. "If we really want to prioritize economic development, here is a prime opportunity to change that dynamic. When you are engaging with your local legislative body, I strongly urge you to work to get economic development higher on the priority list."

BCIC's financial report displayed a decrease in net assets by $30,000 this year, as opposed to a decrease in $60,000 last year. BCIC also reduced its debt by over $15,000 this year. BCIC's Steve Love reported that Bennington County is doing well compared to the rest of the state because the corporation is retiring debts rather than racking them up or asking for more time from creditors.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg