Wednesday February 27, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- After 40 years of residing in Bennington, attorney Thomas Jacobs is hoping to lend his expertise and experience to the Bennington Select Board in difficult times.

Served in 1970s

Jacobs, who previously served on the Bennington School Board in the 1970s, is one of seven candidates vying for three seats on the Select Board. He said the timing is right for him, and his family supports his desire to serve.

"I thought after 40 years it was time to give back some of my time and experience to the town. I've been a problem solver for 40 years," he said. "I do think that this is an important time. Small towns are really at risk of losing their identity.

THOMAS JACOBS
THOMAS JACOBS (supplied photo)
I have the opportunity and saw that Bennington can use some new thoughts and new approaches. That was probably the primary reason," Jacobs said.

The Select Board has several difficult issues to address in the next several years, Jacobs said.

"There is a lot happening and it's going to expensive. It's going to be a challenge for any one of the seven," he said. "It's going to be hard to find the resources to meet those challenges. We know we've got an older population getting older, a poorer population, and a shrinking grand list. If you take all of those and that formula, it becomes a challenge."

Jacobs said the board must focus its efforts on economic development and ensuring that the local entities charged with business development are doing their jobs effectively.

"(The Select Board) doesn't have the authority to tell the school how to run, it doesn't have the authority to say, ‘Businesses, you come to town.' But, it does have the ability to encourage and support, basically through recruitment that the town has, to go out and see if there are businesses that are willing to relocate here, and then use all of the tools that are available in the state to assist in getting those companies to relocate," he said. "When young companies come, young families come, the grand list is reflective, too."

Recruitment should focus on attracting new start-up industries to town, Jacobs said. In most cases, manufacturing no longer means "the old smoke stack" buildings, he said.

"There are a lot of those that exist," Jacobs said. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs that could be supported in this community that may not be 15 or 20 employees in the beginning, but could be seeded with the community resources."

The Select Board should continue to encourage a mix of commercial and industrial zoning, Jacobs said. He said the questions of whether big box stores should be allowed to come to town has been settled.

"The train is already out of the station. Let's fight the battles that really need to be fought," he said.

Jacobs said developers will look to build what makes sense for Bennington. Large stores will not come to the area unless they believe there is a market, he said.

"If that fails, it's going to fail on its own. But, they're going to make a decision on that on their own. We've only got 15,000 (residents) and the surrounding communities. How many big boxes are 30,000 people going to support? The thought is, ‘Well, everybody leaves town for things.' But, how many big boxes do you need?"

The town is facing significant infrastructure needs, including water main replacements and an upgrade to the water treatment plant. Jacobs said Bennington is facing the same challenges as most other towns in the region.

"The town's no different than any other old New England town with all of the infrastructure issues. But, they've got to be addressed," he said.

Addressing the town's infrastructure needs are key to continued growth in Bennington, according to Jacobs.

"How are you going to keep and maintain and attract businesses without good, quality infrastructure," he said. "They've got to be addressed and they've got to be addressed in an orderly fashion, meaning you just can't go out and mortgage the town's future. I've been involved in a lot of financing and business activities and it looks like bonding is going to be the less expensive way to finance infrastructure."

Jacobs said at the town has many positive attributes that should help the Select Board attract business and people to town.

"Where we live, where we're located, is really one of its strengths. It's sort of been an untapped strength. We're right there -- the tri-cities, the tech centers being created just north of the tri-cities. They're going to need ancillary support in the form of employees and also housing," he said.

The town also has a solid base of companies that make carbon fiber components for the medical, automotive, aerospace and defense industries. "We do have a couple of really solid fiber companies right now. That's the wave of the present and the future," Jacobs said.

The town could do more to make Bennington more desirable, however, Jacobs said. At the top of his list are more recreational amenities for children and families.

A recent trip to the Riley Rink in Manchester showed the desire families have for a skating rink and other amenities.

"Obviously it would be at some expense," he said. "Wouldn't that be nice if they could just go down to the rec center here and have that same opportunity. The Riley Rink was fully of families. So, I think you have to provide that type of thing to young families and show that it exists."

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @nealgoswami