Corralling economic development

The town will likely be paying the Bennington County Industrial Corp. $25,000 for a one-year contract to provide economic development services. The pitch was made at Monday's Select Board meeting, and while the board has a policy of waiting until the next meeting before making decisions, the reception was a warm one.

Generally speaking, the BCIC will work to find developers for commercial and industrial sites and work with local business owners to make sure their needs are being met. It's economic "gardening" versus economic "hunting," to paraphrase Bill Colvin, community development director for the Bennington County Regional Commission.

This BCIC, BCRC business is fairly confusing. There are a number of economic development groups that work in Bennington and the surrounding area. We'll attempt to clarify their roles:

The BCIC is a non-profit. There are 12 like it in Vermont, and they essentially work to promote industry and commerce on a county-wide level.

The regional commission is likewise one of several in the state. It provides a number of services, many related to planning, that would otherwise be handled by a county government, which Vermont doesn't have. Last year, the BCRC absorbed the BCIC.

Both of these groups are different from the Bennington Downtown Alliance, formerly known as the Better Bennington Corp. It's funded through an extra tax placed upon businesses inside Bennington's downtown district. It's mission is to promote businesses within the district.

Then there's the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce. Its funding comes primarily from its members, and its job is to promote tourism and commerce to the benefit of its membership.

The town of Bennington also has an economic and community development director's position, which is being held on an interim basis by Michael McDonough, so the job description may change.

There may be others we've missed and we're not counting related boards and commissions.

Some have speculated that the economy would be better off if some, or all, of these groups were to be eliminated and replaced by a single organization; the theory being that it would at the very least cost less if not be far more effective.

As we've seen with school districts, that's much easier said than done, and in the case of the groups we've mentioned it may not lead to much more in the way of savings or efficiency.

It's also been suggested that the town hire a business recruiter to make cold calls to business in an effort to bring them here. That seemed to work with the Berkshire Family YMCA, which is working with the town on recreational programming here. Maybe instead of another economic study, the town could give a few grand to someone to work the phones.

Where Bennington might also do well is in hiring a lobbyist based in Montpelier, where they might steer the state away from maneuvers like strangling traffic flow in the town with a bypass, or missing the chance to rebuild the State Office Complex in the downtown and provide it with some badly needed foot traffic.


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