Clear those calendars for the 2015 MRV Economic Summit! The summit will be held on Thursday, December 17, at the Sugarbush Gate House Lodge starting at 5 p.m. This will be an evening dedicated to engaging people about the Mad River Valley’s economic future.
From July to September business owners, employees, residents and second-home owners explored issues and opportunities that exist for the Mad River Valley economy. Ten business sector workshops were held and 150 people participated. Surveys were created to reach a broader audience and another 150 people responded. Representatives were elected by their peers at each sector workshop to review the information that had been gathered over the summer.
The workshop and survey information was distilled and the unanimous strengths of The Valley were revealed as the beauty of the land, the way the land is used and the community of independent, creative and entrepreneurial people who live here.
At the sector representative meeting on October 19, attendees began conversations on how to leverage local strengths to create opportunities in recreation, wellness, food systems and the creative economy. Recognizing that there is no economic development arm of the Mad River Valley and no resources to provide for one, many of the initiatives to move forward need to be completed by the business community. Examples from Hardwick’s food system and Northeast Kingdom trails were used to illustrate this point. Ideas that percolated to the top were creating a shared makers or co-working space, a shared Valley brand for Mad River Valley food producers and further developing The Valley as a wellness destination. Learn more about these initiatives at the 2015 Mad River Valley Economic Summit.
The workshop data and survey also highlighted issues limiting business success. The most significant problem was the lack of workforce due to limited affordable housing and transportation options, followed by a disparate disjointed town center and lack of identity that underscored issues with marketing and branding efforts. Also listed were lack of business support services and/or economic development tools and respondents felt that recreation and event efforts were disjointed.
The Mad River Valley Planning District and Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce are focusing on the strategies to address the aforementioned issues. The planning district has dedicated additional emphasis on affordable housing, transportation and place making. “These are integrated and challenging issues for any community, especially one as rural as ours. They require long-term planning, clear community support, cooperative partnerships, steadfast attention and creativity,” said Joshua Schwartz, executive director of the Mad River Valley Planning District. “I am looking forward to working with the community to find the best solutions,” Schwartz added.
The chamber is working to address issues related to branding and marketing The Valley as well as ways to provide business support services. “We have already started working on the issues related to marketing and branding that were discussed in the workshops and we plan on offering business support services to enhance professional networks and bring more education to The Valley,” said Rebecca Baruzzi, interim manager of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We have limited resources and we need to work collaboratively with other organizations to address some of these event and recreation needs,” Baruzzi said.
The lack of sufficient resources to tackle all of these issues came up throughout the workshop series and again at the sector representative meeting. Solutions to fund necessary staff, create a revolving loan for affordable housing or develop a system for funding events could come from an increase in property taxes, a local option tax or a combination of impact investments and state and federal grants.
Throughout the series, effort has been focused on developing an economic dashboard that helps measure Mad River Valley economic success and enhancing the community calendar that is housed on the chamber website, www.madrivervalley.com/events. A community vision has been created from past town processes and the three Town Plans to act as the framework for economic vitality conversations by establishing what the Mad River Valley is and identifying where the community is interested in going. Lastly, an ad hoc economic development committee has started and members are looking at incubating a small food entity in The Valley with the goal of creating a regional tasting center.
The 2015 Mad River Valley Economic Summit will be an occasion to learn more about the collective impact of community members from food system, recreation, wellness and creative economy sectors as well as the efforts of the planning district and chamber of commerce. There will be multiple opportunities for community members to get involved.
The 2015 MRV Economic Summit is the culmination of the work that has been done through the Economic Vitality Series this summer. For more information on the Economic Vitality Series, please visit http://mrvpd.com/Vitality.php or call Rebecca Baruzzi and the chamber at (802) 496-3409.