From the Chamber: Leaders meet in the Shires of Vermont

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This past week the Shires of Vermont RMO (Regional Marketing Organization), along with the Bennington Chamber, invited over 60 leaders from around the region to join as we talked about the future of the region in relationship to economic development, tourism and cross-community collaboration. These leaders came from just about every sector of our society.

The purpose of this "Shires Summit" as we called it was to gather these lead organizations and people from both the North and South Shire to have a dialogue about the future of the Southwestern Vermont region. With the recent events of the Manchester Chamber closing, this summit was the first large-scale event to hear from these leaders about the region and various ways we can move forward.

The goals of the Summit were:

1. To hear from these stakeholders on the type of organization, if any, that should lead the charge to combine assets, personnel, finances, etc. to create a more cohesive region

2. To create a working group of highly engaged and competent leaders to explore, if deemed necessary, the idea of creating a Regional organization and the first steps to accomplish this task

3. To identify next steps for the Shires of Vermont RMO

After four hours of working through a program facilitated by Doug Marsh of Organizational Dynamics, I walked away with a couple of insights I'd like to share with all of you.

First, in the 10 months I have now been at the helm of the Bennington Chamber, having met with various leaders both from the industry and outside, reading best practices and doing some soul searching, I think regionalizing in some capacity is our best move forward. We are a stronger attraction as a region than as a single entity or town. If we could boast a top notch healthcare system, great schools, regional recreation including a mountain range and trail system, all types of shops (outlets and mom and pop), civic centers and venues, an assortment of lodging options, fine dining and family dining, and a wealth of professional services to sustain this area, we could attract an amazing amount of world visitors in the next decade. These visitors grow our economy by helping our merchants and members expand their businesses and put food on their tables. Some visitors eventually decide that this is the best place in the world to settle down and raise a family, and we welcome them to do that as well.

We "locals" may see the borders and lines between our towns; our visitors do not and they don't travel that way.

Second, the consensus at the end of the Summit was an overwhelming "yes" to meet again to discuss some of the real challenges and opportunities for the future and, perhaps most importantly, how as a region we might be able to solve those challenges. Some of those initial challenges/opportunities identified at the Summit included better Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities, infrastructure improvement (both transportation-wise and technological), better marketing of the region with combined resources, a strong focus on workforce development, educational development, affordable market rate housing and childcare, a stronger voice and advocacy in Montpelier, and an ongoing dedication to keeping the natural beauty and quality of life for the area.

The last insight I'll add is a call to action. There's a great quote by Seth Godin, "There's no shortage of remarkable ideas; what's missing is the will to execute them." Trust me, in this job, there is no shortage of ideas for events, committees, research groups, ideas or organizations. What I find most often is exactly what Godin talks about, the shortage of will to execute. Now is our time, Shires of Vermont residents, to act. Now is our time.

Always onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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