BENNINGTON — The town has signed on as a partner in a collaborative, regional effort that aims to boost economic development in Bennington and Windham counties.
Select Board members voted unanimously on Monday to enter into an memorandum of agreement for the Southern Vermont Economy Project. That initaitive is led by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, which received federal funds for it last year.
“Being able to share resources, and being able to brainstorm with colleagues around the region is beneficial for the town,” Zirwat Chowdhury, community development director, told members.
“A strong region is a strong Bennington,” Chairman Tom Jacobs said, calling the town a “critical player” in the effort.
The project “aims to connect and expand collaboration of economic and community development work in the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone,” Chowdhury wrote in a memo to board members.
That zone comprises 44 towns within Bennington and Windham counties and was created by the legislature in 2015. The Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone Committee identified a downward economic trend in both Bennington and Windham counties, evident by declining tourism, home sales and business activity.
Last May, BDCC received funds from the U.S. Department of Agricultural : a $230,000 grant from the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). The grant targets 11 towns. To the west, those are Bennington, Peru, Readsboro, Rupert and Searsburg. To the east in Windham County: Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Halifax, Marlboro, Rockingham and Wardsboro.
The project, before Bennington signed on this week, included 114 partners, which Chowdhury said represent everything from “municipal officials to arts organizations,” a mix of entities public, private and nonprofit sectors.
The project, Chowdhury wrote in her memo, brings together partners to “gather and share pertinent data for the region; facilitate regional collaboration among those engaged in similar work; and identify parteners’ most wanted skills and respond with capacity building training.”
Under the agreement, the town of Bennington is a “designated participant” on the grant. The town will provide quarterly, annual and final reports for its involvement to the BDCC. According to the agreement, the town will report baseline data including: Census data and demographics; any economic data and related studies — including jobs and employers — the town already has; and existing efforts involved in local economic development.
Leading the effort is Sarah Lang, the project manager who took over in the spring.
Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.
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