Board: Risky to release information too soon
BENNINGTON -- Making public too much information on what the town knows about business plans can sink those prospects, according to town officials. The point was made in the latest round of discussions about the town's role in business recruitment and retention.
Select Board member John McFadden had requested more information from Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington about businesses he has been in contact with that are eying Bennington as a new location. Harrington provided the list, which mentioned a clothing store chain seeking a large amount of floor space.
"If you remember, when we talked at the last board meeting about a 50,000-square-foot retailer the Banner carried it, the (Associated Press) picked it up, WCAX carried it, (Vermont Public Radio) carried it, it went all over the place and all it was was a potential," said Town Manager Stuart Hurd, adding that the business wanted closer to 30,000 square feet.
The town is not part of negotiations between developers and retailers, he said, although the town, through Harrington, seeks to keep informed on what is happening.
"We end up raising expectations when that kind of information is blasted statewide," Hurd said. "We've begun to get some pushback from our economic development partners. They're a little reluctant to share some of the details on some of the information they have because they're afraid once it is transmitted to the board and becomes a matter of public record, and all of a sudden it's out there."
He said at that stage the town simply knows about the prospective deal and if made known to the public, the town gets blamed if the company decided not to follow through for some reason unrelated to what the town can offer.
McFadden requested the information so the board would be able to at least debate what it could do to pave the way for a business to set up here. He and board member Justin Corcoran said they wanted as much information as possible without it causing any problems.
It was decided that meeting minutes from the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, and Better Bennington Corporation would be shared among board members. According to Hurd, these groups do many of the things McFadden has been talking about. The board will also be provided with a list of businesses Harrington has been in contact with, but the list will be organized by categories. Meetings will also be scheduled with local employers to ensure the town is aware of their needs.
McFadden also floated a number of other ideas involving appreciation programs for existing employers as well as ways to make people chose to live in Bennington. For example, a recent graduate newly employed in Bennington might commute from Troy, N.Y., if they find apartment hunting in town difficult. This is something the town might be able to help with.
Hurd said the town has two ways of offering incentives to businesses. One is tax stabilization, the other is its small business revolving loan fund, which gets used often.
Prior to the decision about how the board would approach Corcoran and McFadden's requests, the discussion ranged over a wide variety of economic topics.
Hurd said some of the recent interest in Bennington is likely due to the planned Walmart expansion on Northside Drive. Other board members talked about natural gas pipelines and how places near them may see economic growth.
Board member Greg Van Houten said companies are switching to natural gas to bring down the cost of manufacturing, thus being better able to compete with Asian producers. Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk added that a natural gas line in Burlington has been blocked from expanding into Rutland County, and many years ago Bennington voters rejected a similar proposal. He said it's possible a gas line in Berkshire County, Mass., may reach this area someday.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.
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