MONTPELIER, VT –Bridging the digital divide and expanding the innovative use of online tools will remain critical for Vermont if it wants to continue building resilience into our communities, keep businesses competitive, and assure that community organizations work more effectively throughout the state. That is the clear message from “Vermont’s Digital Stories”, a new report highlighting some of the successes that were launched by the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s (VCRD) two-year Vermont Digital Economy Project. The examples show the promise that technology offers across many sectors and they can be adapted to expand opportunities across the Green Mountain state.
The report is available at vtrural.org/
Through major support by the US Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, VCRD provided 50 of Vermont’s most flood-damaged towns with services that helped speed recovery, spur economic development and job growth, and improve community disaster resilience. The project increased digital literacy and online workforce training, added 26 downtown Wi‐Fi zones, brought Front Porch Forum and community calendars to every Vermont town, created 25 new town websites, and provided customized training for hundreds of small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“This project has shown how important digital tools are in supporting our cornerstone values such as community, mutual aid, creative entrepreneurism, farm and forest enterprises, and strong downtowns,” explains VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello.
The stories illustrate how some of the tools developed with VCRD are already being used:
- Bethel brought together the downtown business association, the municipal government, and the local school system to create a Wi-Fi zone that extends through much of the riverfront downtown of this flood-impacted small community. It will be a key component for communication in future post-disaster situations.
- The co-founder of an organic, draft-animal powered family farm is using his iPad and a mobile app to help map his daily logging plan and develop a cooperative network to meet the surging demand for sustainably harvested logs.
- The newly launched Bridport Creamery developed its e-commerce website to assure its artisan cheeses can reach the niche market it has targeted.
- Waterbury’s new Wi-Fi zone strengthens local business by offering its downtown groups a new way to reach visitors and residents alike to let them know about special events and every day shopping options.
- A unique partnership between the Community College of Vermont and the State Department of Libraries placed paid college students in 24 local libraries as an ongoing resource to help bridge the digital divide. More than 1,000 Vermonters, including seniors and the unemployed, received one-on-one digital skills training through the program.
- The Black River Historical Society in Ludlow boosted donations and auction bids by adapting an app that allowed its iPad to process credit cards at remote events.
- Front Porch Forum is now in every town in Vermont and neighbors have shared hundreds of thousands of postings. One Montpelier post even led to a new community garden for a dozen residents.
“These stories are shining examples of how Vermont is advancing the culture of digital economic development,” says Costello. “The future is viral.”
Throughout the project, VCRD worked closely with IBM, the Snelling Center for Government, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Small Business Development Center, Microsoft, Front Porch Forum, and the Vermont State Colleges.