By Lisa Loomis
After a well-attended forum for the Waitsfield Select Board to take comments and feedback from local business owners, the town has compiled and published a summary of the October 27 event.
The forum was moderated by Peter MacLaren, Warren, who asked participants for comments on Waitsfield's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (known as a SWOT analysis).
Under the heading of strengths came the following comments: Waitsfield is an incredible place to live; The Valley "brand" is marketable; the town has attracted a number of good, high-tech businesses; The Valley has a lot to offer and has the integrity of a small town; it is possible to have one-to-one connections with people and the community members have the ability to work together to get things done.
Listed as weaknesses were such things as: lack of cohesiveness; poor transportation facilities (lack of sidewalks, not easily walkable); plowing does not take pedestrians into account; there is no park; and many of the buildings are decrepit. Other weaknesses cited include no pro-business attitude; lack of clear branding; lack of cohesive effort to pull together for events and promotions; arrogance on town boards (intimidating and uncertain); perception that it is difficult to get a permit; parking problem on Old County Road near the Mad River Valley Health Center; not enough participation in public forums; lack of infrastructure to support tourism; and some business owners feel disenfranchised from the local chamber of commerce and wish for more networking opportunities.
Opportunities were identified as: a need for more recreational facilities to attract visitors and improve the quality of life (community center); bike lanes on Route 100; improved parking on Bridge Street; better promotion of the industrial park (tax incentives); encouraging businesses that support tourism; better branding for Waitsfield and The Valley; Valley hosts program similar to Sugarbush's ambassador program; the restructuring of the chamber of commerce; and a place (community calendar) to bring all events and happenings together in one place.
Other opportunities include creating tax stabilization for renewable energy investments, creating an enterprise zone where businesses could grow, having the town be more helpful to businesses seeking state and local permits, designating someone from the town to lobby for businesses at the state level and for recruitment and creating a local campaign.
Listed as threats were items such as: it's easy to start a business, difficult to grow one; difficulty in attracting and keeping employees; the tax burden is unfair to historic village properties; a need to address shifting demographics; Bosch has left the Mad River Industrial Park; town board's overuse executive and deliberative sessions which undermines confidence and trust in government; local permit decisions seem to be made based on personalities rather than merits; there appears to be a willingness to fight too often, rather than trying to find a resolution or use mediation; negative energy; lack of trust, divisive decision making; need to keep business in The Valley and a difficulty in "branding The Valley" without first knowing "who we are."
Beyond the SWOT analysis, the forum produced other ideas, such as free WiFi hot spots in The Valley, creating a recognizable, universal "open" sign for Valley businesses and improving the collaboration between the town and the chamber to communicate that Waitsfield is open for business.
The possibility of a town newsletter was discussed along with the chamber's new community calendar.