Wednesday December 12, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Regional Commissions in Bennington and Windham Counties are set to receive $470,000 in Economic Development Administration funds to help long-term recovery efforts in southern Vermont following Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's congressional delegation said Tuesday.

According to the delegation, the money will be used by the two organizations to "to expand the capacity of public officials and economic development organizations to work with businesses and encourage innovative public/private approaches to promote job creation, support economic diversification, and foster disaster resiliency."

One-time funding

The delegation -- Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch -- successfully included the special, one-time EDA disaster funding in last year's disaster recovery bill. They then pushed for funding for the two most southern counties in the state in a letter sent to the EDA regional director in June.

In a joint statement the delegation said the funding would help boost the ongoing recovery efforts after heavy rains and flood waters damaged large swaths of both counties.

"This infusion of funding will speed the recovery of many southern Vermont communities still working hard to recover from Irene. Vermonters continue to pull together as neighbors and friends to support one another, but there are still many unmet needs. This investment will boost recovery efforts and strengthen the region's long-term economic recovery as we rebound from the damage," they said.

William Colvin, director of sustainable community development for BCRC, said the funding will help southern Vermont communities work collaboratively to focus on economic development. Efforts will focus on three separate projects, he said.

The first will create two business resource centers in Brattleboro and Wilmington that will help business owners with planning, permitting issues and identifying funding opportunities. Both centers will "look west" to help businesses across all of southern Vermont, Colvin said.

"Those basically will be led by two flood recovery officers to help impacted businesses," he said.

A second project will bring together the Chambers of Commerce in Bennington, Manchester, Brattleboro and the Deerfield Valley to help create a sustainable marketing initiative. Colvin said efforts will focus on bringing all four Chamber groups together to help brand the area and market southern Vermont to Massachusetts.

Finally, there will be "an intense focus" on downtown and village centers in Bennington and Windham Counties. Colvin said the regional commissions in both counties will help downtowns with planning, marketing and training to bolster economic activity.

"This is a real opportunity, I think. One of our goals at BCRC is to partner regionally," he said. "I think it's a really positive thing."

In a statement, Susan McMahon, associate director of the Windham Regional Commission, said the funding will help businesses impacted by Irene begin to focus on long-term recovery efforts.

"Many of our towns have been dealing with public infrastructure recovery and haven't had the time or resources to focus on long-term development and resiliency planning. These funds are critical and timely to help our historic downtown and village centers recover and thrive. We are grateful to our congressional delegation, EDA and State and local partners for helping us bring these resources to Southern Vermont," she said.