"What separates us from others?" It's something that I have long wondered for Bennington. Having a background in marketing, advertising and business, I'm always looking for the "value proposition" or the "why should I buy from you instead of someone else" factor. Likewise, we should be asking ourselves something similar, "What is our value proposition? Why should someone choose to travel or come live in Bennington as opposed to any other place in the world?"
Before starting this new role, I was involved over the years in many aspects of the town including the Better Bennington Corporation, the Bennington Economic Development Partners, the Bennington Young Professionals and minor projects with BCRC and BCIC. I also had the opportunity to participate and volunteer at great events like the Garlicfest (yes, the Welcome Booth announcers and music providers!), Mayfest, First Fridays, St. Patrick's Day parade, the Home Brew Challenge and many others. In my mind there are some really great answers to the question, "what separates us from others." We could talk about the outdoors, the history, or even the fact that we are one of the last remaining historic downtowns in the country.
I'll leave those answers to others for now. What I have witnessed working with various groups, people and events is something I don't always hear a lot about. It is this idea of "craftsmanship."
It is my belief that Bennington is home to some of the finest craftsman in the country (I include entrepreneurs in this group as well).
The definition of craftsmanship or being a craftsman is a member of a skilled trade, someone who practices a craft, an artisan. Well, when you can begin to say that Bennington is home to many artisans and crafters, all of a sudden we become a very enticing place to come visit!
Historically, Bennington is the home of Henry Putnam, one of Vermont's greatest entrepreneurs. Putnam used his success in business to build up those around him, leaving lasting marks on the Bennington community, including the local hospital, the public water system, and some of the area's most iconic buildings. Much of Putnam's business success came from manufacturing, particularly one product - a small mason jar with an easy-to-close lid that used a clasp, which Putnam had patented early in his career. He called the product the lightning jar, which now is the name of our new coworking space. Our lineage and very heritage is based on craftsmanship, invention and creativity.
The other day I had the privilege of walking though Bennington Potters and was astonished at the true beauty of the pieces that are still touched and crafted by the hands of Benningtonians. I look at the success of Porta Brace, the makers of the iconic equipment bag my father and other news reporters still use today, or Katie Cleaver, a local metal smith, who still makes her jewelry by hand today. I marvel at what Catamount Glass does with their glassware, what Meike Williams does with her collection at CAKE, what GVH studio and Greg Van Houten does with their signs, or what the Madison family does with their beer, and I feel a sense of pride around all that Bennington has to offer around craftsmanship. All of them artisans, all of them craftsmen in my book. We also have craftsmanship in our growing art, performance and music scene in town.
We have craftsmanship in our blood, in our bones and in our spirits.
When people ask me what separates Bennington from other places in the world, I tell them we are true Vermonters in every sense of the word. We have a certain level of quality and attention to detail that is historically the Vermont brand; we like to work with our hands and provide a humanity to our products here. Many of our craftsmen are in a constant pursuit of excellence around their product – always with an eye on quality and precision. No one product is like another because our hands have touched it. And, in a world of sameness and off-the-shelf products, that is truly rare.