ARLINGTON — Regional business owners and community members met for an information session at the Arlington Inn Wednesday night to lay out the short-term future of representing businesses in the northshire after the close of the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce.
The Shires of Vermont, a regional marketing organization (RMO) established by the state in the 1990's, hosted the mixer. Shires member Jonah Spivak spent the first half of the event explaining the history of the RMO, marketing and branding in Vermont. The latter involved a handful out of 25 attendees sharing comments and ideas. A summit is schedule for September 13 in Manchester from 1 to 5 p.m. with hopes of a working group to come out of it, Spivak said. Specific and a limited amount of guests will attend the summit including town representatives and business owners.
"When we talk about the Shires, it's really just a way for us to talk about us cooperating and working together. Nobody's trying to take anybody over. We're not trying to overshadow individual towns, but we all exist together and we're the only county that has two shire towns," Spivak said. "Nothing would happen in Vermont without us working together. Our current situation is not great."
The Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce closed in March due to a decline in membership and loss in revenue. Business owners expressed Wednesday that the membership fee was too high and that the chamber rarely gave help to establishments.
"At the end of the chamber, it had to be a nonprofit who took over any intellectual property. Being at the table, there was only one organization at that time that could do it," said Pauline Moore, Manchester's director of economic development. "Fortunately it was Shires of Vermont. Anything that had to be given over as intellectual property, we had the ability to do that."
Currently Berkshire Bank and TPW Real Estate office in Manchester serve as a temporary welcome center. Elizabeth Berger who runs the Arlington Inn took over the chamber phone line and the website still serves as a portal to each business. All work has been spearheaded by volunteers and will not last as a long-term fix to the chamber's closure.
"One of the things we need to do collectively is figure out how we make this sustainable," Spivak said.
He explained that times are changing everywhere. People aren't joining elks or rotary clubs because they want to know what's in it for them.
Other suggested to reach out to the colleges and high schools in the region to get help with social media work for their business or other tasks the owners don't have time for. Improved communication was also noted because an individual cited losing sales after the sidewalk sale date in Manchester had changed without her getting a notification.
Dana Jevarjian moved to Dorset from Connecticut in May and serves as the marketing manager for 8 Church Street Hospitality. She was also on the chamber in the town she moved from.
"There was really nobody that sincerely and authentically cared about the success (in Manchester). That's the type of person that you need in a role, in any role, in all of our businesses. We need to hire authentic people who care and are not just looking," she said. "For me, it's sad to see businesses go, and I'm like, 'Why didn't they ask for help?'"
She added that some outlet stores are moving out of the area, which will be good for Manchester to reside back to its small business reputation.
"Right now it's the era of small batchmakers," she said. "Everyone's an entrepreneur. If we can get those people back into Vermont, back into Manchester, back into Dorset stop buying online because it's killing us."
In Vermont there are about 80,000 small business owners that contribute to the state's brand of outdoor recreation, healthy living, and handmade products, according to the Business News Daily. The purpose of a chamber of commerce is to further interest in a business and some owners in Manchester believe the outlets overstep the small establishments.
Berger, who's been Shires of Vermont member for 12 years, said she recommends a variety of activities in the north and south when guests stay at the Inn, because she's in the heart of the region. She suggests exploring the history of Bennington but a concert in Manchester, for example.
"Our goal is to work toward the summit on the 13th and to really take a hard look at finding a regional organization," she said. "What that is, we're not sure. I have guests that come in the middle. They don't have what each other has," noting the differences in attractions between Manchester and Bennington.
Objectives of the summit:
1. Gather local stakeholders and economic leaders in the community to discuss creation of a economic opportunity.
2. Get advice from stakeholders on type of organization, if any, to create a more cohesive region.
3. Create a working group tasked with exploring the idea of a regional organization.
4. Identify if a regional organization is deal, and if not, what is next for the Shires of Vermont RMO.
For more information on The Shires of Vermont, visit theshiresofvermont.com.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-490-6471.