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Randolph Wins Energy Economy Competition: A ‘Climate Economy’ Boost for Development

2018-02-01

By Sandy Vondrasek as seen in the Randolph Herald: https://www.ourherald.com/articles/randolph-wins-energy-economy-competit...

With the recent closure of several Randolph businesses— including Belmain’s, a retail anchor in the downtown— concern about the town’s economic future has been running high.

The discussion has been intense, and sometimes critical, at meetings of economic development committees— both official and ad hoc; on Randolph’s Front Porch Forum email group; and in other forums.

Thanks to a small steering committee, and in particular, the efforts of energy committee member Gary Dir—Randolph has just gained an influential ally on the economic development front—and one that is committed to looking forward, not backward.

The assist comes in the form of Randolph’s selection late last week as the next “Climate Economy Model Community,” in a program launched just last year by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD). Randolph is the third town in the state to be selected as a model community; the VCRD continues to assist last year’s two designees, Pownal and Middlebury.

Dir, who was not available this week for comment, was widely credited by others for pulling together a team to draft the application, and soliciting letters of support from major institutions and businesses in town. Jon Copans, who manages the Climate Economy Model Community program for VCRD, said this week that Randolph was selected, in large part, because of “the great team of people around the table who see opportunity” in the future of Randolph.

“Randolph made a very compelling case for their readiness to take full advantage of this program,” noted Paul Costello, VCRD’s executive director. “With support from local business owners, farmers, the college, the hospital, the Rotarians, the school district, the town, and others, there is already a dynamic team coming together to move Randolph forward.”

Now Is Good

Randolph’s Chris Recchia, who assisted in the application process, observed this week that Randolph’s selection for the program comes at a good time.

Although Randolph already boasts some notable “climate economy” strengths, he said, including “solar companies and LEDdynamics … at the same time we are losing some core things downtown.”

The designation also comes at a time when interest in revitalizing the local economy is strong, Recchia added, citing the online exchanges and Saturday’s planned discussion at Kimball Library on downtown redevelopment. (See other article.)

“This tailors nicely into those discussions,” he said.

And, although Randolph’s selection in the program “doesn’t come with any money,” Recchia added, “it comes with some good expertise.”

That includes, he said, VCRD’s strong track record of “facilitating discussion, bringing out ideas, and trying to find a way to make them happen.”

Climate Economy?

Just what is the climate economy?

Copans defined the climate economy as a “mass of economic response to climate change” that is now underway.

“Some describe it as the lar­gest economic transition the world has ever gone though, as we wean ourselves away from carbon emissions,” he said, adding, that VCRD believes that individual communities, such as Randolph, “can be the real pioneers, in terms of developing the new model.”

Under the VCRD program, climate economy projects for towns might include—but are not limited to—improving the energy efficiency of structures, renewable energy generation, transportation system upgrades, and entrepreneurship and business incubation, he indicated.

Other projects are possible, he said, adding that VCRD’s “general philosophy is we follow where the community leads.”

Pownal, for example, took a somewhat different tack, and focused on projects designed to bolster the food producers and farms, and to enhance recreation options in the small town.

Copans said Middlebury is focusing on upgrading energy efficiency and an already good transportation system, as well as “looking at how to support farmers in embracing agricultural practices that actually sequester carbon, and improve soil health and profitability.”

Doing anything to strengthen a downtown, he added, makes good climate-economy sense, because having “a nice, compact downtown,” means that people can access a variety of goods and services with a smaller carbon footprint.

Copans added, “Those downtowns are also fundamental to Vermont’s character, and fundamental to our economic vitality in the new economy.”

The “model community” process VCRD has developed involves working with residents to brainstorm ideas, and then helping them to select three to five priorities from that list. VCRD will continue to support the town as it forms a task force for each priority, and will help bring partners—non-profits, businesses, and government agencies—to the table that can help each group achieve its goals.

“The Model Community project is at its core a partnership of VCRD, Efficiency Vermont, Green Mountain Power, and other partners,” Copans said.

Some of those players, he noted, can provide funding or other forms of tangible help.

Copans said the very next step will be working with a steering committee to plan and publicize the brainstorming meetings, which will likely be in late March or early April. It’s important, he emphasized, “to pull in as many people as possible.”

Those interested in being involved can reach Copans at jon@vtrural.org or 802-225-6393.