For many years I worked in the oft maligned hospitality service jobs of the region. These were jobs that allowed me to make a decent living with maximum flexibility while I had small children. The last service industry job I had was as a waitress at Dot’s Restaurant. This was a very busy, and therefore fairly lucrative job a few days a week, allowing me maximum time with my three young children. It was at Dot’s where my interest in economic development began.
Folks treasure their routines. For workers, retirees and the weekend residents the morning Dot’s routine included coffee, newspapers, and spirited commentary on whatever the latest local controversy was or which new state law had folks up in arms. I was intrigued by the banter and back and forth and the level of knowledge and passion. If you wanted to understand how the locals were feeling after the controversial Brigham decision and the national tragedy of 9/11, Dot’s was the place to be .
In addition to awakening my interest in the workings (or not) of local and state government, there was one other notable feature of my eight years at Dot’s – a very slow and gradual decrease of how much I was able to earn as a waitress. This, of course, was due to a parallel slow and gradual decrease in overall economic activity in the region. Notable numbers of friends and acquaintances I’d known for years started leaving and businesses that has once thrived were shutting the doors and not being replaced.
All of this led me to apply for the regional chamber of commerce director position in 2006 where I figured maybe I could “do” something to help. And I also needed to be able to halt the slow decline in my wages. Since then I have had many opportunities to work and learn with others in and out of our district on events, plans and long term strategies to begin to reverse our economic decline.
This work remains quite an adventure with varying levels of support and assistance for our efforts from state and federal government, and some amazing local and regional grassroots contributions. My current position was created by just such collaborative grassroots effort when, in 2011, the State of Vermont and our regional development corporation BDCC made an important decision to collaborate on developing a long term regional strategy to grow Southeastern Vermont’s economy. My past and current successes in bringing businesses and public officials/bodies together to tackle our shared economic challenges will be of great service to our towns as we continue working to improve our economy.
What follows is information about some of the positive economic development initiatives I led, am leading or have helped develop: