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Archive for September, 2011

Cancelled, or at least postponed. I’m leaving it up as a good idea.

Beginning Monday, September 19th, a series of networking seminars will begin at the Hooker Dunham building conference (2nd fl), at 139 Main Street, in Brattleboro. (Continuing the first and third Monday’s of every month).

10:30 – 12:00 Entrepreneur’s Peer Support – (21st Century Business Roundtable) – Stay late and “don’t eat lunch alone”

12:00 – 1:00  Don’t Eat Lunch Alone (DELA)

1:00 – 2:30  Brattleboro Angel Investors Consortium – Come early and “don’t eat lunch alone”

6:00 – 7:30 Personal saving peer support group

We need to talk, imagine, organize, enterprise.

Brattleboro Vermont is a very interesting town, the site of my satelite accounting office.

Brattleboro faces some challenges, similar challenges to many towns in New England, and very similar to Greenfield, though different in ways.

Brattleboro has experienced the affects of a couple recent disasters. There was a major fire in town at the beginning of the summer that destroyed a downtown city block, stores, apartments. It is being repaired but very slowly. That there are still vacancies in offices and retail even with fire victims looking for alternatives, is a bad sign for the town.

Last week there was severe flooding from tropical storm Irene, which rendered another block of downtown unusable currently. Worse, flooding severely damaged east-west roads across Vermont, isolating “suburbs” and summer home towns from Brattleboro. A large part of their economy is disturbed.

Finally, there is the prospect that a major employer and property tax provider, Vermont Yankee Nuclear plant, will close. There is a raging legal fight between the plant’s owners Entergy and the state over whether the state has any jurisdiction over its relicensing permit, or if it is only a federal jurisdiction. I am opposed to nuclear energy, and every year that the aging plant remains open, it becomes more fragile in components that are impossible to replace or repair, increasing the risk of accident. (Nuclear accidents are severe, not minor. Even a moderate risk, rather than infinitesmal, is too much exposure to the town.)

This is a lot.

The common threads are that there is limited industry and limited even intra-regional value addition occurring.

Most of the commerce in town is conducted by large retail: grocery chains, office supply chains, tax preparation chains (my competitors). There is a thriving co-op, currently constructing a large retail store, and office complex downtown. There is some industry, some media, but also a great deal of “value-addition” in social services. Also, there is a very affluent group of urban professionals and wealthy with vacation homes in the area, that drive up the cost of housing, and do spend some money at local restaurants and retailers.

Unlike Greenfield, which is also a bedroom community to Amherst/Northampton and local private schools, Brattleboro doesn’t really have a big network of commutable employers close. Some commute to Keene,and there is some large food warehousing operations locally (but much of that has been off-sited.). There are a couple small colleges in the region, but nothing of the scale and affect of University of Massachusetts, Smith College, Amherst College.

Greenfield also has a thriving community college, which is absent in the Brattleboro area.

The community is a combination of long-term yankees (rich and poor) and now aging old ex-hippies (rich and poor). The “new ideas” that circulate are from the sixties and seventies. Vermont is further from “civilization” than Greenfield, and the cultural difference between the two communities is greater than the actual. Many that have settled in Brattleboro do so to “get away from it all”. (Still Brattleboro is closer to urban centers than the remote smaller towns, and many originate outside of Vermont, unlike in other cities like Rutland or Montpelier.) There is a rural “utopian” feel to the thinking. Sadly, among those that were the progressive utopians, there is a morphing also to stoic endurance (a Yankee virtue) and some hopelessness.

There is a feeling of distrust here, expressed in many ways, by many people. Innovation is not encouraged. Although one would think that there would be a vibrant entrepreneurial culture here, new ideas are distrusted. The wealthy with summer homes don’t tend to invest in any local efforts, and there really isn’t a forum for entrepreneurial brainstorming or mentoring.

I hope to contribute to changing that.

What does a community need to innovate, to thrive?

1. Capital

2. Skills – Direct trade skills and knowledge, administration, decision-making, customer service

3. Motivation and encouragement – Respect and active support of entrepreneurship

4. Communication path from provider to prospective customer

5. Good siting  and available office, manufacturing or warehouse space

6. Professional and surge labor support

The world is different than it was than when Brattleboro thrived as a downtown. Its even different than when Brattleboro sprawled.

It is possible for Brattleboro to be independently healthy economically, and have a complement of great services and culture to offer to part-year residents.

It won’t happen without work. And the work won’t happen without thinking and brainstorming.

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