During a Friday afternoon visit to Brattleboro, Senator Patrick Leahy congratulated southern Vermont planning and development organizations on the deployment of two federal economic flood recovery initiatives he worked with Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Peter Welch and Governor Peter Shumlin to secure. Leahy's visit coincided with Thursday's launch of the Southern Vermont Post-Irene Recovery Project and the first grant awards to Southern Vermont businesses impacted by Irene under the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Disaster Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG-DR).
"Even a year and a half after Irene, there remain open wounds that need tending to," said Leahy. "The Southern Vermont Post-Irene Recovery Project will focus like a laser on the most glaring economic problems and help rebuild Southern Vermont's economy stronger and more resilient to future disasters."
"Governor Shumlin and his entire team believe we need to rebuild Vermont better than Irene found her," said Vermont Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Miller. "Rebuilding resilient small businesses and downtowns is at the heart of this effort. The key to this success is a balanced combination of planning for future disasters and immediate on-the-ground resources businesses can use to rebuild."
The Post-Irene Recovery Project is funded primarily by a $472,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant announced in December 2012. Leahy, Sanders and Welch fought to include special one-time EDA disaster funding in the 2011 disaster recovery bill, and then advocated for funding for the Windham Regional Commission and the Bennington County Regional Commission in a letter sent to the EDA Regional Director in June 2012.
The Post-Irene Recovery Project is being led by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) and Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) with a sub-grant to the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC). The sub-grant is funding two Irene Recovery Officers who will work with businesses in Bennington and Windham Counties to assess current needs and bring resources to affected businesses, downtowns and village centers. The two Irene Recovery Officers, Anthony Summers in Windham County and Wendy Rae Woods in Bennington County, met with project stakeholders in a kick off meeting Thursday in Wilmington.
"Having these boots on the ground will really enhance the region's capacity to understand remaining needs in communities and facilitate access to existing resources available to help," commented Bill Colvin of BCRC.
The project also includes the creation of a sustainable marketing mechanism to help develop multi-sector marketing strategies for the regions. The marketing strategies will be targeted at attracting tourists, recruiting hard to find specialized talent to the region and attracting new businesses to fill empty spaces. Lastly the project will work on supporting and developing revitalization efforts in impacted downtowns and village centers. Regional Planning Commission staff and the flood recovery officers will work with the municipalities on long-term planning processes to identify projects and assist with finding funding that will best enable their community to become more economically resilient.
During a news conference at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, BDCC Director of Workforce Development Patricia Moulton Powden also announced that BDCC and the Springfield Regional Development Corporation (SRDC) will soon be awarding over $240,000 in grants to businesses in Windham and Windsor Counties impacted by Irene.
These initial grant funds are the first of three rounds of grant applications and come from a $1 million disaster CDBG grant the state awarded BDCC and SRDC after Leahy, Sanders, Welch and Shumlin helped secure a $21.7 million disaster CDBG allocation from HUD. BDCC and SRDC applied for the funding to the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to assist businesses with remaining unmet needs to rebuild their flood affected business.
"This is an exciting opportunity for us to assist businesses still not whole from Irene," said Moulton Powden. "As with most of the recovery funds, the demand still outweighs available funding. In the first two rounds we have over $1.3 million in applications and only $900,000 to give out."
April Harkness at BDCC and Paul Kowalski at SRDC are working directly with applicants for funding. Businesses interested in applying for the final round of funding have until March 31. Businesses should contact BDCC at (802) 257-7731 or SRDC at (802) 885-3061.