By NEIL ZAWICKI
The Milton Selectboard on Monday sought help from the Vermont Council on Rural Development and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
As a result of that discussion, the board voted to take part in the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s community visit process.
Town manager Don Turner invited the emissaries from the VCRD and the ACCD to give a presentation to the board.
ACCD deputy secretary Ted Brady spoke first, explaining his agency’s main goal is to help communities thrive.
“My goal is to make sure that selectboard members like you spend as much time talking about economic development as they do talking about trash,” he said.
The chief concern, said Brady, is with population loss and workforce challenges.
“We have to do all we can to make more Vermonters,” he said. “And we have to do all we can to make sure those Vermonters are contributing to the economy.”
He praised the community, saying Milton is “one of the only communities in the state that can say that it is growing.”
Brady also lamented the level of regulation when it comes to economic development.
“It blows my mind that it has taken 50 Act 250 permits to create your industrial park,” he said, adding that he’s fighting to eliminate Act 250 permits for designated downtowns and designated industrial parks. Still, he allowed that Milton’s fortunes are tied to nearby communities.
“Milton is not a island,” he said. “Your boats rise and fall based on what happens in Burlington and St. Albans. I think I’m here because of your interest in making sure more of this great stuff happens.”
Board chair Darren Adams said it “gets old” hearing about Milton being “halfway between Burlington and St. Albans.” He added that when Miltonians travel to Burlington or Saint Albans for retail shopping, they also spend dollars in those communities going to lunch or to the movies.
“What can you guys do to help us move beyond just being halfway between Burlington and St. Albans?” he asked.
Brady answered that he did not have something to fix Milton’s retail exodus. “But I think that may not be your only play here.”
Brady said another asset Milton has is an “incredible water and sewer infrastructure.”
“If you want retail in your town, make that the highest priority and do it,” he said.
VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello spoke next, offering candid words.
“The federal government’s not coming with an answer to economic development in Milton,” he said. “It’s all about local leadership.”
He told the board the VCRD is “in the business of helping towns tee up their leadership and their vision.”
“Ultimately you’re gathering up people’s best ideas for the future of the community,” he said. “We’re basically always looking for communities that are really ready for this.”
Costello offered the VCRD’s services to mount an extensive partnership to help Milton realize its economic development goals. VCRD’s community visit process involves holding a series of public meetings to identify possible projects within a community. Community members then select three of those projects to work on, with VCRD connecting the community with experts who can support their efforts.
The process would bring 45 to 50 executives to bear in focusing on Milton’s potential, and would cost the VCRD between $45,000 and $50,000.
“Milton would not pay that cost,” said Costello. “All that we would ask of the town would be that it would hold a big dinner to welcome the team.”
“Milton would be a fascinating place to work,” he said.
The board voted to partner with the VCRD. Costello said the process would begin next summer.