Economic Development: From Planning to Action

NCDN has been super-busy with a lot of behind-the-scenes work since our January 19th meeting one year ago.  Meetings, phone calls, reports, registrations, more meetings — you know, all the stuff required to create an organization, build partnerships and get buy-in from our community.  So now it’s time to meet again.

So Save the Date!   The next NCDN public meeting will be January 20th at the Brown Public Library Community Room.  To help you remember, just click the Add to Calendar link below:

Here’s what you can expect to hear!

  1.  NCDN accomplishments in 2016.   Not surprisingly, economic development work involves meetings, phone calls, emails and site visits.  You may recall the Night on the Common we coordinated in July.  Or you may have participated in our “New Look for Northfield” survey.  But our work has been much more extensive than these two activities.  We’ll take a few minutes to let you know what we’ve been up to.
  2. What’s next!  NCDN has defined our goals and vision.  We’ve crafted specific strategies to achieve concrete objectives.  And we’ve written it all down in the NCDN Executive Summary.   You’ll get a copy of this important document at the January 20th meeting.  We’d also like to hear your ideas and feedback in the days following the meeting.  Special thanks to Ro Pelletier for providing a draft review back in June!
  3. A whole lot of Thank Yous!
  4. And the question, What do you want to do? 

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NCDN has helped set the table.   Now it’s time to apply for grants and implement strategies.  We’ll give you a run-down on project areas.   Is there a specific project you want to help tackle?  Do you have time or expertise you’d like to contribute?  If you can’t participate, do you have some bucks to throw into the kitty?  Economic development requires coordinated, behind-the-scenes commitment.  Northfield needs Tiger Teams to roll up the sleeves and get down to work.

Who do we need?  Everyone.  This is just a short list.

  • Benefactors.  Northfield needs to demonstrate financial commitment as we seek corporate and institutional donors.  We also need to raise funds for a matching grant application by February 15th.  
  • Real Estate Agents.   There’s a new demographic of homebuyers in Northfield.  Let’s talk!
  • Local Business Owners.  Define your needs.  Are you interested in tax incentives?  Foot traffic?  Marketing?  What’s on your short-term and long-term wish-list?
  • Mountain Bikers.  You’re part of a huge growth opportunity.
  • Grant writers.  You know how much you’re needed.
  • Are you connected to Developers?  We need you to tap into your networks and help close deals on new construction projects.
  • How about Website Developers?  Northfield needs a vibrant, interactive, content-driven site.
  • Photographers.  We need a portfolio of images to highlight Northfield’s beauty and vitality.
  • Policy Wonks.  You know who you are.  Northfield desperately needs your expertise.  We need a sophisticated, innovative local government and committees.  We need people who can match local planning with state and federal programs.

So save the date and attend the meeting January 20th!  In the meantime, think about how you can contribute to economic development.  Share your expertise!  Write a check!  Spread the word!  Get involved!

And as always, thanks for your help!

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Tuesday Night: Farmer’s Market, East St., and Frieghtyard Way.

Six weeks ago I promised ice cream in the post, “EcDev:  What’s new behind the scenes!”  Well, it’s time for ice cream!  But first, a few really intriguing questions:

What if there were walk-in shops on both sides of the East Street Block? 

East St   Google Maps
Current view of East Street Block, South SideWhat if someone built a across the Dog River?

What if someone built a 4-story micro-apartment complex on Freightyard Way, overlooking the proposed Water Street Park across the Dog River?

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What if Northfield’s downtown housed more people who could support local businesses without the need to create more parking spaces?  What if we had a bigger tax base without having to clear forests or parcel out farmland along our dirt roads?

And finally, what if someone asked you to share what you think about all this?

Well, on Tuesday you can share your thoughts and think more deeply about opportunities for Northfield’s future and economic recovery.  The Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) is hosting “Night on the Common” in partnership with the Planning Commission and Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission.

As you may know, the Farmer’s Market runs from 3-6pm, so there will be plenty of time to socialize and buy local.

From 6-7pm there will be a presentation by consultants who have drafted a conceptual plan regarding economic development on Freightyard Way and the East Street Block — two prime locations in Northfield’s downtown.  Their purpose:  to find out what you think!

You can also provide input on the NCDN’s proposed brand for Northfield at one table under the tent.  Advocates for the proposed Water Street Park will also be present at a table of their own.  And of course, there will be ice cream!

So take a break from the usual routine and come on down to the Farmer’s Market this week (July 19th)!  Share your input on Northfield’s economic development and future developments. East Street Block.

You probably know the East Street Block from NSB to the Dog River.  If you don’t happen to know the Freightyard Way area, here’s a picture slideshow.  It’s probably one of the easiest places to build new structures, with power, water, and sewer all set to go.   And lots of space in the back next to the scenic Dog River.

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EcDev: What’s new behind the scenes!

This involves Ice Cream.

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Area Wide Plan Timeline

The Economic Development Committee kicked it old-school on June 1st, marking up the whiteboard in the municipal building conference room.  The subject:  creating a plan for two commercial/industrial “brownfield” properties

A brownfield is an industrial or commercial site “where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination.”   Property owners have to think about these things before they buy, sell or develop land which may — or may not — be contaminated.

At stake is the difference between a property being developed — or not.  Let’s say you want to build office space on a location where, once upon a time, someone buried an oil tank or dumped antifreeze all over the place.  If you want to build, you might have to go through quite a few expensive hurdles.  And if you wanted to sell the property, it may look less attractive for development to a potential buyer.  They would have to go through the same expensive hurdles as you.  The end result:  development is delayed or doesn’t happen at all.

So how can an Economic Development Committee help a developer when a question of potential environmental issues arise?

With an EPA-funded grant of $43,000. 

EPA BF AWP fact sheet.png

If we want to stimulate our local economy by attracting new businesses, we need to help property owners jump through regulatory hurdles in a positive, helpful way.  Creating a plan to help assess and, if necessary, clean up the site is much more helpful than it sounds.  If you’re not a developer, all this stuff may sound boring.  If you are a developer, all this stuff sounds expensive.  This is why the EPA provides Brownfields Area Wide Planning grants to communities.  It’s essentially a revitalization instrument that catalyzes the reuse of property which might otherwise not be cleaned up or developed.

Are you still with me?  Because there’s ice cream coming up!

Here’s the official explanation from the EPA’s brownfield grant funding page:

Brownfields area-wide planning (BF AWP) is a grant program which provides funding to conduct activities that will enable the recipient to develop an area-wide plan (including plan implementation strategies) for assessing, cleaning up and reusing catalyst/high priority brownfield sites. Funding is directed to a specific project area, such as a neighborhood, downtown district, local commercial corridor, old industrial corridor, community waterfront or city block, affected by a single large or multiple brownfield sites.

So what properties in Northfield are we talking about?  On June 1st, the Economic Development Committee  selected two site locations to receive planning support.  Six potential sites were identified a few months ago.

  • Former Bean Chevrolet
  • Former Nantanna Mill
  • Former Comfort Colors Property
  • 108 N. Main Street (next to Dollar General)
  • Mayo-NSB-East Street Block
  • Freightyard properties (former Northfield Wood Products area)

Site selection was based on a list of weighted criteria with a baseline of environmental uncertainty.  The results were pretty straightforward.

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Nate’s Brownfield Selection Notes
  • What is the size of property?
  • Does the potential use of the property align with the Town Plan and V-DAT report?
  • Does the landowner want to participate, and is the landowner interested in developing the property?
  • Will a development on the property encourage additional improvements in the community?
  • What is the potential level of environmental assessment and cleanup?

After assessing these criteria, the Freightyard lot and Mayo-NSB-East Street Block were chosen.  (The outlined areas in the map below are approximate.)
AWP Sites

The next step is “community engagement.”  This is where the ice cream comes in!

On July 19th the Northfield Community Development Network, in partnership with the Planning Commission and Economic Development Committee, will host a fun event including bountiful mounds of ice cream (and perhaps healthier alternatives).

Some good folks from Stone Environmental will be there seeking your input for the Area Wide Plan.  They’ve already starting mapping things out.  Literally.  Here’s a link to a really cool “story map” they put together:

https://cvrpc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=9828ff061a0b4f399c8fc009b6493063

Go ahead, click the link and scroll down.  You’ll see a bit of history along the way.

You’ll also notice that the story isn’t quite done.  This is because you’re part of the story.  Your thoughts and ideas are relevant to the planning process.  Stone Environmental has been hired to talk with you, listen to your ideas and gather input as they create our Area Wide Plan.  And it’s all happening this summer.  The plan will be complete by September 31st.  When it’s done, then perhaps we’ll see some new developments in town — on the Freightyard and along the Mayo-East Street Block.

So please put July 19th in your calendar.  And remember:  Ice Cream.

Northfield Area Wide Plan

Darn Tough: A Comfort Colors Future?

Note:  This is Part 3 in a 3-Part series, “Darn Tough Vermont:  Success can be a Double-Edged Sword.”


Success can be a double-edged sword.  Comfort Colors has been acquired by Gildan Activewear Kurt Salmon

Everyone in Northfield should consider what Darn Tough Vermont  might look like ten years from now.Simply put, the same fate of Chouinard’s Comfort Colors may be waiting for Darn Tough Vermont.  As you may recall, Comfort Colors was purchased by the global clothing company Gildan in 2015, resulting in the loss of many jobs in Northfield.

Could the same thing happen to Darn Tough Vermont?  Sure.

If we look at one of Darn Tough’s leading competitors, we can get a glimpse of one possible future for Darn Tough Vermont.  SmartWool, another provider of premier outdoor sports socks, was founded in 1995 by ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke.  The company was purchased by Timberland in 2005, and which was then  acquired by VF Corporation in 2011.   Today, SmartWool is  a brand for a publicly traded company.

Smartwool to VF Brand

When SmartWool was purchased by VF Corporation,  residents in Steamboat Springs were uncertain about their future.   But SmartWool remains in the Colorado ski town and even expanded its headquarters in 2013.  SmartWool shows off remodeled headquarters in Steamboat Steamboat Pilot Today

This didn’t happen by accident.  The City of Steamboat Springs wanted to keep SmartWool around.  When SmartWool needed to build its new headquarters in a former airport terminal, the city loaned the company $450,000 toward the $2 million project.  It was a great economic development initiative.  The city continues to earn 3.5% interest on the loan and SmartWool continues to hire new employees.

The Smartwool story is very common.  The original owners may have a strong commitment to their community, but they also deserve the fruits of their labors when their brand becomes more valuable than their company’s operations.  When a small company creates a high-value brand and demonstrates consistent growth, it’s a cherry ready to be picked by a larger company.

Darn Tough Vermont shows all the signs of growing ripe for the picking, especially if the company achieves its goal of $100 million in annual revenue.  By then,  Ric Cabot may very likely get an offer no one would refuse, no matter how much commitment one might have to Northfield employees.Transaction

This is just a fact of life in a free economy.

So what would happen to local employees if VFC, Gildan or another global clothing company purchases Darn Tough Vermont?  Ordinarily, global companies might close up the local operation and transition to cheap, outsource labor.  But sometimes the “Made in the USA” slogan is worth the price of keeping operations in the US.  The question might be, would a hypothetical buyer keep the overhead of a manufacturing facility and employees, or would the hypothetical buyer contract  manufacturers in North Carolina or Tennessee? 

 

Northfield leaders should keep this story in the back of their minds while we celebrate Darn Tough Vermont’s current success.  Ric Cabot has been and will always be a model employer in Northfield, no matter what happens in the future.  If he gets an offer he can’t refuse — like a $100 million — we should applaud his amazing business turnaround story. Cabot rebuilt his family legacy and will have proven the kind of  darn tough company  resilience worthy of a case study in future business school classrooms.

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There are various future directions for Darn Tough Vermont.  If we take the time to consider a potential Comfort Colors scenario, we can then take positive actions to make other scenarios more attractive.

For example, one of the most effective ways to keep a business local is to have the employees purchase the company.  An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is one way for an owner to retire very lucratively, selling the company to its workers.  An ESOP can even be as enticing as a $100 million carrot that may never come with its huge tax benefits, owner rewards, and worker stability.  Vermont happens to have quite a bit of expertise in forming successful ESOP owner succession plans, and in fact the Vemont Empoloyee Ownership Center is hosting its annual conference on June 2nd.

The bottom line is, there are many different ways to help facilitate a successful transition if we anticipate Darn Tough’s possible future.   On the other hand, if we choose to not think about the future with candor, Northfield may be caught by surprise like it was with the loss of Comfort Colors in 2015.

There are no judgments of good or bad to be made about any business in Northfield. The process we need to think about in economic development is strategic planning.  It’s possible to be very, very proud of Darn Tough Vermont and also imagine things being very, very  different ten years from now.

Thanks for reading this three part series and please feel free to leave a comment or send a note with your thoughts.

DarnToughVermontMountaineeringSocks_hickorees.com_ad

 

Darn Tough: Sophistication and Commitment

Note:  This is Part 2 in a 3-Part series, “Darn Tough Vermont:  Success can be a Double-Edged Sword.”


We Really Know SocksThe high-value Darn Tough brand has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York TimesFortune MagazineEsquire, Industry Week, as well as outdoor specialty media like Bicycle Retailer, Snowshoe Magazine, and GearJunkie.com.  Gearist.com went out of their way, coming to Northfield to create a video of the production process

There are many elements to the Darn Tough Vermont success story.   The down-home Vermont mystique for quality products and Yankee perseverance belies the level of sophistication behind the scenes.  Darn Tough was built on a top-flight branding strategy hatched in 2004.  It employs a  long-term public relations campaign helmed by Momentum Media PR .  It hires expert consultants to improve efficiency, cost-savings and supply chain management.  From Industry Week, March 9, 2015: How an American Sock Manufacturer Battled Its Way Back from Bankruptcy to Growth

“We begin with projections from the territories. We look at pre-season orders, and then set targets by sku of what we want to knit,” Cabot explained. “We can make real-time adjustments based on real-time demand, so the system is pretty robust, and it allows us to modify the schedule. If we think Glacier Socks are going to be a huge hit, we can adjust our orders because we do manufacturing right here.”

Darn Tough Vermont is pretty sophisticated on the business analytics side of things.  You don’t have to be an MBA student to understand the language and machinations of the global economy, but it helps.  Cabot is describing concepts like demand management, strategic sourcing, and responsive planning.  Let’s just say that behind every successful manufacturing enterprise, there’s some darn serious software solution.

Darn Tough’s business sophistication meets social commitment when we talk about Ric Cabot’s regard for family legacy and the livelihood of his employees.  Cabot has a bit of an old school sense of responsibility to the families he supports by way of employment.

“We know our employees are punching the clock for their spouse, their boyfriend, their kids, their elderly parents,” Cabot says in the Boston Globe piece.

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This feels almost as warm and fuzzy – in a good way –  as a pair of his Merino wool and nylon socks in the middle of winter.

Darn Tough Vermont: America’s Turnaround Story

Darn Tough The Boston GlobeNote:  This is Part 1 in a 3-Part series, “Darn Tough Vermont:  Success can be a Double-Edged Sword.”

  • Part 1:  America’s Turnaround Story
  • Part 2: Sophistication and Commitment 
  • Part 3:  A Comfort Colors Future?

On April 21st the Boston Globe featured Darn Tough Vermont, reporting on the sock company’s growth and its transition from a private label manufacturer into a high-value outdoor clothing brand.

It’s a story with a proud past, present success — and a future everyone in Northfield should think about.

Ric Cabot’s turnaround story is rare among US manufacturers.   Over the last few decades, the impacts from overseas outsourcing have made many traditional manufacturers look deep inside their hearts and their pockets to decide whether to close up shop or join the race to the bottom in the quest for cheap global labor.  Few companies have taken the huge leap of faith Cabot made to transform their entire business model.

The 1980s and 1990s weren’t kind to the US textile industry.  95% of all looms in the Carolinas and Georgia were shuttered as globalization shook the foundations of America’s manufacturing economy.  Malden Mills in Lowell Massachusetts, a family-owned business as dedicated to its employees as Northfield’s Cabot Hosiery — came back from a devasting fire in 1995, but could not escape bankruptcy in 2001.

darn-tough-anvil2But Ric Cabot is as darn tough as the socks he manufactures.  Cabot Hosiery was on the frontlines of the global economy, but instead of folding or outsourcing, Cabot changed the name and direction of his company.  Cabot Hosiery became Darn Tough Vermont.  Traditional clients like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch were no longer the focus.  Darn Tough’s new customers would be people who stand on their feet, who appreciate a sock for its quality instead of its price.  Darn Tough would now make one of the best pair of socks in the premier sports market, and would give a promise no other company dared to reproduce — a lifetime guarantee.

This says quite a lot, particularly when you sign your name to every pair of sock you sell.

“If you can wear these socks out, we’ll replace them.  Free of charge.  No questions asked.  For life.  When you’re really serious about something you make it yourself.”  – Ric Cabot

Unlike many over-wrought artisanal crafted products, Ric Cabot’s guarantee is no joke.  The Darn Tough promise has been put to the test and the warranty is sound.  Liz Thomas, a prominent long distance hiker, wore the same pair every day, testing the limits of this promise.  After much sock-wrecking abuse, she would return her Merino woolies to her local outdoor gear shop.  She would attend outdoor events like Pacific Crest Trail Days, trading in worn socks for new at the Darn Tough tent.  She even popped a pair of Darn Tough socks in an envelope and mailed them back from whence they were made:  364 Whetstone Drive in Northfield.  Every time, Ric Cabot fulfilled his promise.

How to Turn Holey Socks into New Socks aka the Darn Tough Warranty Works   Liz Thomas  Long Distance Adventure Hiking

And this promise makes Liz Thomas a loyal customer and excellent word-of-mouth champion for Darn Tough Vermont.

Whenever a hiker asks we what type of socks to wear on a long distance trail, I always steer them to Vermont Darn Tough socks. First, I believe that the tightly knit weaving keeps out trail grime and leads to a better fit—which helps prevent blisters. Second, I really like that they are made in the US. Lastly (and perhaps the most important for long distance hiker) there is an unconditional LIFETIME GUARANTEE.

Now that’s a guarantee I think about every time one of my el-cheapo Walmart socks busts a hole in the ankle seam after 6 or 8 weeks of regular wear.

Next up,  Part 2: Sophistication and Commitment