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REDC initiative takes aim at college grads

As the class of 2019 steps off their college campuses, they’re getting invited to stick around in Rutland County.

The Rutland Economic Development Corp. has launched an initiative titled “We Want You to Stay,” in which they provide materials to graduates from the local colleges aimed at encouraging and helping them to find jobs and stay in the Rutland area.

The move comes as the area is about to start seeing fewer college graduates. Two of the three local four-year colleges — Green Mountain College and College of St. Joseph — are closing. REDC executive director Tyler Richardson noted, however, that the last college standing — Castleton University — is larger than its fallen comrades and will take on a number of their students.

“I don’t think it subtracts from our priority to keep our students here,” he said.

Richardson said that if it seems as if economic development discussions have shifted over the years from how to keep Vermont youth in the state to how to attract newcomers in the state, it’s not because one is seen as more important than the other.

Richardson said there are three prongs to workforce development: One is helping people who have barriers to employment like incarceration or drug problems, and that agencies other than REDC work with that population. The other two, he said, are retaining the local population and attracting newcomers.

“We’ve certainly been very loud in the getting folks to move here bit,” he said. “Our work with engaging students has continued and if anything, we want to ramp it up.”

Richardson said the initiative was largely the work of Kim Rupe, REDC’s assistant director.

“We primarily try to sell the lifestyle here,” she said. “I think there’s a misconception that there aren’t any jobs here. ... It’s really about changing the conversation.”

Rupe said REDC eventually plans to work with CU to provide “mini-resources” specific to the university’s degree program, but they had not yet determined how the degrees coming out of Castleton matched up to the jobs available in the area.

“We’re in the very early stages,” she said. “This summer, we’ll focus on that a little more.”


Rain delays logging operations

With rainfall totals several inches higher than normal this spring, loggers and others in the timber industry are behind on their work.

“It’s not good,” said Kenneth Gagnon, co-owner of Gagnon Lumber, the Pittsford sawmill. “This is a tough time of year, and this year has been extremely slow with the wet weather we’ve had.”

Gagnon said his business contracts with local loggers, and owns some of its own land for timber harvesting. He said he and others in the mill business like to have several weeks worth of wood on hand to keep the saws running through periods of low-supply, but with loggers unable to harvest, that backlog is dwindling.

He said most sawmills and the like will use winter to stock up on logs, since wet springs aren’t new in Vermont. This, however, is a wetter season than others. Gagnon said he’s about a month behind where he would normally be in terms of harvesting.

Robert Haynes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, said that between April 1 and May 23, more than half the days showed measurable amounts of precipitation.

Between Jan. 1 and Monday, the Burlington area had recorded 16.11 inches of rainfall, which Haynes said is 4.25 inches above average. Measurements for Rutland, he said, aren’t as robust, but what data the National Weather Service does have shows the month of April with two to three more inches of rain than average.

Haynes said the data reflects a small trend of shorter, warmer winters and wetter springs.

Moving logging equipment through wet, woodland soil is not only difficult, but it damages the land itself, said Nate McKeen, chief of park operations for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, which manages several timber harvesting operations on state-owned land.

Wheeled vehicles such as skidders and trucks leave deep ruts in weather like this, he said, causing problems with water runoff into river and streams.

Vermont is a fairly wet state, said McKeen. Most loggers do much of their work in winter when the ground is frozen, and a few weeks in the spring where it’s not advisable to cut isn’t unusual. Also, it depends on where one is working, he said, as some areas tend to be drier than others.

McKeen said he and others have noticed a general trend of wetter falls and springs with warmer, short winters.

Gagnon said it can take two or three days of clear weather for the woods to dry out enough to work in. He said if his stockpiles get too low, he may reduce the number of days per week he’s sawing logs. As for loggers, he said, many will likely seek other types of work for the time being, such as excavating. The trouble with that, he said, is it’s often hard for a small business to rapidly shift from one type of job to another, so a logger working excavation might have trouble switching to take advantage of a good stretch of weather.

He expects people in firewood business will likewise have a challenge this season, as wood needs time to dry out before it’s burned in stoves.


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Color in the wind

Windvanes spin fast during the high winds outside the Vermont Gift & Garden Center in Mendon on Tuesday. Temperatures were low, but wind speeds high across the Rutland region.

Nation’s best downtowns
City makes final round of downtown competition

Downtown Rutland made the Top 10.

The city is a finalist in the Stihl tool company-sponsored “America’s Main Street Contest,” putting Rutland in contention for $25,000 in cash and other prizes such as paint and tools. The city was landed there by online votes, several of which came from a campaign led by Rutland Appliances owner Robert Maguire. Maguire said the comments allowed up to 25 votes from the same IP address, so he and a number of people he knew voted as much as they could.

“I was voting at least 50 times a day,” he said. I could vote from my IP address at work and my IP address at home.”

Such gamesmanship won’t get Rutland all the way, though — a panel of judges decide on which city gets the $25,000.

Maguire said he did not know a lot about Rutland’s competition.

“I’ve been to Saco, Maine, I think,” he said. “I don’t really remember. I think I stayed there at a camps resort with my family. ... I did do a little strategic spying. Canton, Georgia — their campaign for this event is pretty well put together on social media.”

The other finalists are well distributed around the country and are a wide range of sizes.

The biggest is Texarkana, Arkansas, which has 30,000 people but sits at the center of a metropolitan area with an estimated population of 150,000. The smallest is LaBelle, Florida, which has 4,210 people according to the 2010 census and is home to the annual Swamp Cabbage Festival.

Benicia, California, part of the San Francisco Bay area, has 27,000 people and hosts a Peddler’s Fair and a Torchlight Parade. Big Rapids, Michigan, with 10,601 people, is home to Ferris State University. Wellington, Ohio, a village of 4,802, is noted for having been recreated digitally in one of the “The Walking Dead” computer games.

Indiana is the only state with two entries. Logansport, with a population of about 18,000, is the hometown of actor Greg Kinnear. Peru, 11,417, is the location of the International Circus Hall of Fame.

The annual competition is organized by Independent We Stand, a nonprofit promoting small, locally owned businesses.

“Just to be in the Top 10 nationwide for this contest is a big achievement,” Maguire said.


Solar project proposed off Middle Road

NORTH CLARENDON — A solar developer appears to have the town’s approval for designating an area on Middle Road a “preferred site” for solar development.

Tom Garden, of Triland Partners, approached the Select Board at its May 13 meeting seeking the designation. Garden’s company has made a “preliminary notice filing” with the Public Utility Commission to build a 500 kW net-metered array at 4101 Middle Road. The filing was made April 11. State law requires such a filling be made 45 days in advance of filing for a “certificate of public good” for utility projects.

After a brief discussion, it was the board’s consensus that if the Planning Commission had no issue with Garden’s request, it would sign off on it.

According to unapproved minutes of the May 20 Planning Commission meeting, Garden made a similar pitch to the commission and had it unanimously approved.

“I’ve been doing solar development in Vermont since 2009,” said Garden at the May 13 Select Board meeting. “I’ve done two net-metered projects in Clarendon. … I’m very proud of those projects in the way they were sited and constructed.”

He said the plot for this project is 10 acres, four of which would be hosting the array itself.

“I’ve tried very hard to site my projects and design my projects so there’s (no) pushback from the general public or municipalities, or anyone else,” Garden said.

He said there are wetlands near the project, but not on the site itself. The loss of agricultural soil isn’t an issue, either, he said. According to Garden, an expert in his employ has met at the site with people from the Agency of Natural Resources and they don’t believe there will be any environmental issues.

The array would be on a slope facing west, away from the road, making it hard to see, Garden said.

“This is a high, dry site, you’ll have no objections from the state,” he said.

In response to questions from the board, he said there’s access to three-phase power lines.

“As long as people living are there are made aware and are happy with how you’ve set it up and stuff, why not?” said Select Board Chairman Mike Klopchin.

Selectman Robert Bixby asked whether the site could ever be reclaimed or returned to its original use.

Garden said state law requires projects set aside funds for decommissioning, enough to remove all the project’s infrastructure and return the site to its pre-solar condition.

The array itself won’t be near the road, or homes, according to filings Triland has made with the Public Utility Commission.

“The Solar Facility will be sited over 500 feet away from Middle Road and even further from residential structures, significantly minimizing visibility of the solar array from Middle Road and nearby homes,” reads the preliminary notice.

The notice says the project will be net-metered.

“The Solar Facility will create a number of benefits with local, statewide, and regional significance,” reads the filing. “The Solar Facility is being developed with the express purpose of providing a net metering resource for qualified customers of (Green Mountain Power). Triland will form a group of one or more customers that will be entitled to receive net meter credits on their monthly utility bill for the electricity generated by the Solar Facility.”



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Soulful animals

Share the surprising, funny and profound ways animals have brought love or insight into your life. Hosted by Eckankar, offering simple exercises for people of all faiths. 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Rutland Free Library, 10 Court St., Rutland ,,, 800-772-9390.