What are the barriers to doing business in The Valley? What is working? What are the assets of the business community? This is what members of the Mad River Valley Planning District and Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce asked the community through a series of nine workshops for business owners and community members throughout the summer and fall of this year, work which grew out of the Mad River Valley 2014 Economic Summit.
“We would not let that study just sit on the shelf,” said planning district chair Bob Ackland.
The ideas generated within the Economic Vitality workshops were the subject of discussion at the Economic Summit on December 17. Many individuals involved in the project spoke to an audience of more than 250 people at Sugarbush’s Gate House Lodge.
“There are simple things we can get done to move our local economy,” Ackland said. Peter Hans, chair of the chamber of commerce, added that Valley members need to work collaboratively to “make our movement stronger.”
Planning district executive director Joshua Schwartz said that the most prevalent concern to emerge from the workshop series was a shortage of affordable housing in The Valley. This affects a business owner’s ease in sourcing employees who are consistently available for the workforce, Schwartz said.
In addition to the issues such as affordable housing and transportation that were identified through the workshops, four asset areas were identified, including wellness, innovative economy, food systems and recreation.
Representatives of the asset areas spoke to the group, outlining the work they are doing to improve the vitality of their sectors.
Amy Todisco of the Mad River Valley Wellness Alliance (MRVWA), a group formed in the process of the economic vitality work taking place, said that The Valley could become a “wellness destination.” The alliance is working to create a directory of practitioners in The Valley, a website, a short promotional video, and a wellness expo for the public, in which different types of healing modalities would be on display — “giving a little taste of what’s available,” Todisco said.
Whitney Phillips representing the recreation asset area encouraged people to get involved and participate in the process. David Hartshorn from the food systems group outlined steps that group is taking, including creating a common Mad River Valley food product logo, encouraging agritourism and creating a short promotional video similar to the chamber’s Almost Home video.
EXPAND THE DEFINITION
Lori Klein, from the innovative economy group, which includes the arts sector, talked about creating a makers space and expanding the definition of creativity beyond the concept of the arts and creating a vibrant and thriving community of innovators and creators.
After hearing from each representative, the group broke into smaller groups to circulate around tables hosted by the various asset and issue groups. Participants questioned asset and issue group personnel and offered their own suggestions on the work that is being done.
After a half hour, participants gathered again to hear about a new community calendar and a Mad River Valley Economic Dashboard that provides business metrics and other data. The evening ended with the presentation of awards for the Festival of Lights.