From the Chamber: The Chamber's relationship with the Welcome Center

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Meeting at our Welcome Center on top of the highway in the early morning and evening of our Day Under the Dome trip was a good reminder of just how beautiful and functional that building is. Watching people walk in, either from our trip or from places afar, and comment on the beauty and upbeat staff gives this director a great sense of pride in the facility.

With over 100,000 visitors going through our specific Welcome Center this year, the importance and partnership we have with the state and its Welcome Center should not be forgotten. We often hear comments regarding the number of visitors using the Welcome Center. One comment is always about how few cars are in the parking lot, but I recently learned that this is actually a staff rule – get people in, do what they need to do, provide the right information and then send them on their way to explore the rest of Vermont. The low number of cars in the parking lot signifies how good our staff is at getting people what they want and then on their way!

Yes there are times when visitor numbers are low, but in August and October we are rocking up there. Since our opening in October of 2013 we have grown in numbers each year. We average 295 visitors a day. Travelers really appreciate the friendly welcome they receive, the cleanliness of the building, the offering of coffee and tea, and the invaluable information they receive from the staff.

All but a few of the Welcome Centers are staffed by state employees. At the Bennington Welcome Center we are fortunate to have the ability to staff it with Bennington Chamber employees. We see this as a plus as the local staff is familiar with our area and the vast resources we have to offer both visitors and locals. This staff is knowledgeable about our area attractions, lodging, restaurants, and businesses and do their best to send our visitors to downtown Bennington. Their motto up at the Welcome Center is, "See beautiful Bennington before continuing on through the rest of our lovely state." The staff help travelers find places to explore, shop, eat and stay. Because our Chamber of Commerce has contracted with the state to run our center, we have the opportunity of allowing our members to display their brochures at no cost. All other Vermont attractions and businesses pay a fee to display their information. Our members also receive a discounted rate to advertise their businesses on our posters above our brochure racks.

The Welcome Center does not only stock informational brochures but also stocks hiking maps for our area, menus for area restaurants and we have a blackboard that lists area events. There are two display cases which any Vermont business can use to display their wares. These cases are free of charge and change monthly. The Welcome Center also has an art wall on which local and Vermont artists display their work. When talking with PJ DeVito, our manager up at the Welcome Center, she mentions how visitors love the True Patriot horse sculpture, which was constructed by the amazing local artist, Rita Dee.

Many folks in the area stop in every month to see what's new. Schools have visited to see their archeological display. This display came to light while the center and roads were being built. It is a window into Bennington's past from ancient times through our industrial era. The Center also displays Vermont made furniture which is often used by visitors to sit, have coffee, rest, chat and even enjoy their picnic lunch. In warm weather the Center's picnic area and patio gets a lot of use by travelers and locals who enjoy the view of the Green and Taconic mountains and especially the spectacular view of Mount Anthony and the Bennington Battle Monument.

Need to raise money for your non-profit? Why not have a bake sale at the Welcome Center? Because we are federally funded, you are not allowed to "sell", but a donation jar brings in as much and maybe even more revenue. One local business freely supplies our coffee bar with donuts in the fall. Our visitors love a free taste of Vermont. This business in turn receives many customers who have stopped by our center which is good for all of us. We are open to any business with ideas on how to help our guests get the most out of their visit to our area.

Each year our staff takes many tests about all aspects of Vermont in order to become official state ambassadors. I am very proud that the staff at the Welcome Center are welcoming, friendly, knowledgeable, and hard working. I dare say that they are some of the friendliest and most genuine people I have every met. They are invested in our center, our community and our state and it shows. We are constantly thanked for our spotless facility and I know the staff takes pride in their work. I'd like to personally thank those staff members: PJ DeVito, Melissa Hunter, Leslie Knapp, Frank Nolin, John Reed, Nancy Smith, Paul Kennedy, Lowre LaCroix, Tommi Outwater, Joseph Russell, and Alan Webster. Your continued dedication and great attitudes are truly inspiring. Thank you.

The Vermont State Welcome Centers are built as a safety and rest stop for truckers and travelers. They also are a source of information for the entire state. We believe our center is unique. We are not only a pit stop for people, but a place where people come to visit and begin their 'Vermont experience.' We have developed friendships with many of our visitors. We know them by name. We know where they are from, their families and even their pets. As we welcome them into our state and our town, so do they welcome Bennington and Vermont into their journey.

Our Welcome Center will soon be dedicated and named the James M. Jeffords Welcome Center after the late Vermont Senator. Stay tuned as we will have a dedication ceremony in the summer at the Welcome Center. If you have an event coming up or music at your restaurant, let us know and we will add you to the Welcome Center event board. E-mail PJ at patricia.devito@partner.vermont.gov. If you would like to sign up for a display case, the art wall or have a bake sale just call us at 447-2456.

Always Onward,

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


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