The rain stopped just in time.
Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Cohen had declared that this year’s Winter in August would be held on Merchants Row “rain or shine,” and at 4 p.m. it looked like that needle had landed on “rain.” An hour later though, when the event kicked off, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.
“The truth is, I don’t think we can ever go inside again unless it’s really torrential,” she said. “People like to be out in the street.”
Winter in August is the local business community’s annual tribute to the ski industry. Area restaurants and caterers serve complex small plates to hundreds of visitors who circulate among their booths. The count of booths was somewhat lower than in previous years.
“I think we had some competing factors,” Cohen said. “The fair’s been under a transition, and I know some people were going there. I hope the brutal heat we had last year didn’t keep people away this year.”
Nonetheless, there was plenty of food on offer, from the pork belly mac-n-cheese by Casey’s Caboose to the Lobster mac-n-cheese from Franklin Conference Center. Lobster showed up in wontons from Preston’s in Killington — the favorite of Rutland resident Alaura DuBray.
“Everything about the texture, the flavor — and then the rice — was flavored just perfectly,” she said.
Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland City, was one of the judges picking the booths with the best flavor and presentation, and he said he was well sated at the end of the process.
“It’s a very, very fulfilling job,” he said. “It was very difficult to make a decision. These restaurants are so creative with what they produce here, it’s not even funny.”
The best taste award went to Greenfield’s at the Holiday Inn, which served a bison chili. Casey’s Caboose, which served a flank steak slider alongside their mac-n-cheese, was the runner-up. Best display went to the Franklin Conference Center, while Preston’s, which served a bison, bacon and bourbon meatball in addition to their lobster wontons, took the people’s choice award.
Not everyone was pushing food. Mike Mazzella was there representing Vermont Brew, a professional arena football team recently formed in Middlebury.
“It’s football in a bathtub,” he said. “It’s 80-feet wide and 200-yards long — basically a hockey rink. ... Think of it like the Vermont Mountaineers as far as football is concerned. It’s a stepping stone. If you come out of college and you’re a Division III athlete, you may not have film. You can come to us and we’ll get film.”
Mazzella said the team will play its first game in March against an opponent to be determined.
“We’re looking into leagues right now,” he said. “We want something regional so the travel’s low. We’re looking for supporters. We’re looking for sponsors. ... We’re trying to be community-owned and operated. ... It’s a good overall community thing that we’re looking to have.”
Graphic Edge, the company that bought Keith’s II, has itself been bought by a larger firm.
The Florida-based Trivest Partners announced this week that its affiliate, ASB Sports, had bought Graphic Edge, which has custom screen-printing facilities in Rutland, Iowa and Las Vegas.
“It means nothing but good things for our area,” said Steve Seneral, general manager of the Vermont branch. “We’re not going anywhere. ... We intend to grow and add jobs.”
The Rutland facility moved from the former armory on West Street to a Seward Road facility, where it employs 45 people, in 2017. Keith’s II had moved to the armory from Pittsford in 2013.
Graphic Edge was founded in Iowa in 1989. It bought Keith’s II in 2014, which allowed each company to access the other’s regional market. A similar expansion took place in 2017 when Graphic Edge bought the Las Vegas-based Jock Shop. Now the Graphic Edge is the latest in a series of acquisitions by ASB, which bought three similar companies last year.
“They’re in a phase of what I’d call gathering a critical mass of volume and talent,” Graphic Edge CEO Bill Schenkelberg said. “This industry is really going through quite a bit of consolidation right now. The management team felt this was the best move to keep us competitive.”
Schenkelberg said the consolidation should not trigger any layoffs — pointing out that as CEO of the acquired company, his job would likely be one of the first on the chopping block.
“At this point, everybody’s job is safe,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll see some departments’ duties change a little bit, or their chain of command ... but no layoffs are anticipated.”
Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said he was not concerned about the sale because it appeared to follow a familiar pattern.
“If you recall, Graphic Edge acquired Keith’s II — they were an out-of-town group that bought a smaller local business and kept the jobs and actually grew the business,” he said.
Calls to Trivest, which describes itself as “a private investment firm that focuses on partnering with founder/family-owned businesses in the United States and Canada,” were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Hear, hear: Thanks to a new certificate program at Castleton University, students will be able to take courses to qualify for a master’s degree in speech and language pathology.
A master’s degree is required for speech pathologists to practice, according to Kelly Parker, director of rehabilitative services for Rutland Regional Medical Center, and the population demographic of Vermont is creating a demand for aid.
“We have an aging population,” Parker said. “The need for medical-based speech pathologies, extended-care facilities, home health care. ... The need is going to continue to grow.”
Castleton’s program is set to launch this fall with two new courses: Introduction to Phonetics, and Introduction to Communication Sciences and Disorders, with other courses, like Speech and Hearing Science, Anatomy and Physiology of Speech and Hearing Mechanisms, Language Development, Aural Rehabilitation and Introduction to Audiology, to be added later.
“We felt there was no reason we couldn’t have a set of courses offered here at Castleton,” said Program Coordinator Megan Blossom, who herself has a doctoral degree in children’s speech and language. “We also have an online program just in case there was a shift in careers and students wanted to take those courses.”
Though Castleton University does not currently offer a master’s degree in speech pathology, the State University of New York and University of Vermont both offer programs, and Parker said RRMC has benefited directly from their graduates.
The new programs are also open and available to undergraduates who may have considered a career in speech pathology and want to test out the beginner courses to see if completing the certification and continuing on to post-graduate studies is something they want to invest in.
Castleton is currently accepting enrollment for the courses, and the program has already attracted around 10 students.
“We’re hoping to get a few more before the classes start in the fall,” Blossom said.
If the launch of the new program is successful, Blossom said, Castleton might consider expanding the initiative to potentially offer audiology assistant programs, which would require students to acquire some observation and clinical hours throughout their course of study, and potentially open new avenues for collaboration with hospitals and schools.
“Speech pathologists have to know a lot about speech and how children develop language,” Blossom said. “Speech pathologists can specialize in anything from strokes and brain damage, traumatic brain injuries, to expertise in feeding and swallowing. ... there’s a huge range of possibilities.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the demand for speech-language pathologists will most likely grow — by about 18% — in the next 10 years, and cited a current shortage of credentialed employees in schools and health facilities across the board.
And more are coming: With advancements in the behavioral sciences, Parker said more diagnoses of speech language challenges are being discovered earlier — pre-school aged and sometimes younger — providing a hungry field in education-based speech-language pathology with graduates working alongside children in classrooms.
“There’s several positions open in the state of Vermont right now,” Parker said. “The majority of those are school-based.”