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R3 Group Hard at Work in Randolph

2018-09-13

BY TIM CALABRO as seen in the Randolph Herald: https://www.ourherald.com/articles/r3-group-hard-at-work-in-randolph/

Though it’s been months since the dramatic spring kickoff of the Randolph Region Re-energized project, known as R3, lots of work is still underway.

Fifteen members of the Task Force on Economic Development and Downtown met Monday night at Gifford Medical Center’s conference center to discuss their group’s progress since they formed in June.

R3 is a part of the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Model Climate Communities program, which provides support and organization to help towns reach economic and energy efficiency goals.

Meetings kicked off with much fanfare in April, gathering crowds in multiple locations around town to suss out the future of Randolph and surrounding towns in the 21st century.

Brainstorming sessions led to the formation of four distinct task forces based on areas deemed by locals to be of importance.

Monday night’s meeting, led by attorney Damian DiNicola of Randolph and Northfield Savings Bank’s Peter Reed, brought together the largest of the task forces, which is focusing its energy on creating a vibrant economy, especially in the Randolph Village area.

The first sub-committee to report Monday night has been focused on bringing charging stations for electric vehicles to the area.

According to Jon Copans, VCRD’s director of the Model Climate Communities program, Gov. Phil Scott has announced a grant program that would aid in the implementation of this goal.

Wifi, Opportunity Zones

A second committee has been investigating options for creating a public wireless Internet network in the downtown and near Exit 4.

According to Julie Iffland of the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation, that aim has proven more difficult than anticipated.

The initial concept, she explained, was to mesh together a single network from existing businesses. Comcast, she said, discourages such practices with its residential and business service, which could result in a shutdown. The company does have a municipal wifi program that the committee plans to explore, but another avenue may be possible.

Fiber optic cable, run through town by FirstLight, a higher-tier provider that leases bandwidth on lines it owns, may be accessible as an alternative to retail service providers such as Comcast.

Another group, represented at the meeting by Gretchen Linton, has been getting in touch with folks in other towns to gather data about what has worked or not for stimulating local economies elsewhere.

DiNicola and John Farrow discussed Randolph’s designation for so-called Opportunity Zone funding.

The federal investment program, both agreed, could be useful for attracting investors, but there are currently some hurdles. The U.S. Treasury Department has yet to create regulations to administer the legislation, and that, coupled with a relatively narrow time frame in which an investor can realize a return on his or her investment before the legislation’s possible sunset, makes utilizing the program somewhat tricky.

Farrow, the founding partner of Farrow Financial, said he is currently working on an Opportunity Zone project with a client, which could prove instructive for Randolph.

Lastly, DiNicola discussed work his sub-committee is doing to create a survey for area businesses, with the aim of gathering data on the region’s strengths and weaknesses.

Springfield’s economic development organization performed a similar study in 2015 and has shared its procedures and report, he said.

Data such as this, DiNicola said, would be useful for the group and for townspeople as they define a vision for the future of Randolph and surrounding towns.

The economic development task force set a date of Monday, Oct. 15 for its next meeting.