Recently we've seen lively discussion on the question of how Bennington can best recruit businesses to our area. Over the weekend we read about the Select Board's discussion on business recruitment, and over the past few weeks much has been made of the announcement by Plasan Carbon Composites to close its automotive operations in town. Certainly the loss of any employer is unfortunate, and it's encouraging to hear that the town leadership has identified recruitment and retention as one of its main priorities.
However, while I've heard many anecdotal facts and vocal opinions on the subject, much of the discussion is focused on the tactical details of recruiting and retention, rather than on a long-term and sustainable strategy. Rather than focus on individual cases, I would suggest a broader, more comprehensive discussion about how Bennington can best position itself to be economically viable in the long term. Much of that discussion is already taking place, but a longer-term perspective is needed.
I agree with the Select Board that it's critical to understand what businesses are looking for in order for them to set up operations in Bennington. However focusing on the needs of one, or even a few, businesses is too narrow, and may not address the most important issues. Some view Bennington's lack of a major "anchor" employer as a weakness, in contrast to GE in Rutland or IBM in Essex, however Bennington's economic diversity may be one of its greatest strengths, and one that's often overlooked.
Recruiting a large company to the area will require a difficult, sustained, and expensive effort that may or may not be productive or even realistic, and comes with a list of downsides including a disproportionate ongoing reliance on that business. I view the departure of Plasan's automotive business as a great loss to the community, however I view this as part of the inevitable business cycle given the realities of the global labor and energy markets, and the automotive supply chain in particular.
Asking how we could have prevented the departure of Plasan is asking the wrong question, instead we must look at how we were successful in helping to grow and sustain that successful company to begin with. This means looking at the big picture of what Bennington has to offer the market in general, and not focus too much on what one individual company wants, which may or may not be good for our community. We have a strong tradition of entrepreneurial start-ups in our area, and that organic growth has been key to our economic viability for many years. Targeting a few employers and identifying specific resources that those employers want in order to set up shop here is a risky strategy.
Rather than a transactional approach focusing on individual recruitment prospects, I would encourage a longer-term strategy focused on how to best position Bennington to retain and grow its economic diversity, such as supporting small to medium sized businesses and fostering new start-ups who are likely to stay in the area for the right reasons. I would encourage diversifying our already strong manufacturing sector by growing additional verticals such as technology and services. We already have a strong incumbent employer base, and we should focus at least as much of our attention on what we have as on what we want.
Garder Global-Z International