NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- At 24 years old, North Bennington native John McFadden is hoping to join the Bennington Select Board and help attract and retain local young professionals like himself.
McFadden, a product of local schools, went on to earn to a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont. He returned to the area after college for work and to pay back student loans.
"With all of the talk of not being able to get jobs and the heavy burden of student loans in general, my idea was to come home, find a good job here, live with the parents for a little while and pay off the loans. I've been fairly successful in doing that," he said.
Now an employee at Mack Molding, McFadden said he has seen many of his peers flee Bennington and other local towns because it lacks amenities for young professionals.
"I love Bennington, but a lot of people come here and work here after school that didn't grow up here," he said. "When you have new people coming in, it happens time and time again at Mack, I see people come in and after a year or two they're bored. They have no idea what to do and they end up leaving. You don't want to see that. You don't want to see people coming in and getting good jobs and leaving after a few years and really investing their time into the town. That's when I started thinking, ‘Hey, something is wrong here.'"
More and more people are choosing to live elsewhere and commute to jobs in Bennington because the town lacks the restaurants, bars and shopping that other nearby locales have, according to McFadden.
"It's not working. It's not clicking," he said. "You see people take those jobs and they start living in Bennington and they say, ‘Well, maybe I can live in Albany (N.Y.).' And now they're commuting back and forth, so you see different companies or different businesses around town taking the hit for that because they're not going home to a Bennington house and they're not going out to eat in Bennington. They're going out in Albany."
The Select Board can lead discussions about what the town needs, McFadden said.
"I think that's a community building exercise that needs to be done," he said. "Living in Bennington, what do you have access to other than a grocery store? We do have a nice hospital, but people don't typically look at a hospital to visit every other day. You look around at things you have and it lacks in a lot of areas that would make people consider Bennington a home, a place to raise a children."
As a young professional, McFadden said he will provided a needed voice on the board that provides balance. "I think what I'd be bringing is a new look on things. The young blood does help," he said.
A proposed ban on bars serving alcohol after midnight will only further the resolve of young people to move away, McFadden said. However, he said the plan, pitched recently by Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd, is a way to begin a conversation about recent problems.
"I thought presenting that as an option wasn't necessarily a way of saying, ‘Hey, this is what we should do to fix the problem.' It was saying, ‘Hey, here's a problem and here's a possible solution.' I thought it was more of an opening up to the table," he said. "I saw it more as a door opener."
A policy banning alcohol service after midnight would backfire, he said.
"It would be a way of pushing more kids out that are of age. Let's face it, people in their low-20s, mid-20s, people are going out and they're trying to have a good time. We need to make sure it's safe," he said. "Shutting things down at midnight eliminates that and now a 20-year-old is thinking, ‘Graduated. Got a good job, but now this town doesn't even offer a night life.'"
McFadden said he plans to seek more information about the zoning of the former Johnson Controls property. Efforts have failed in recent yars to make the 20-acre parcel off of Northside Drive commercial land. McFadden said it is possible that commercial development could help offer some of the things lacking in town.
"I'd have to weigh the options and hear both sides, but I see a lot of benefits in making it commercial," he said.