POULTNEY — Town manager Paul Donaldson serves as the animal control officer, the town manager, zoning administrator and more for the town of Poultney, so it stands to reason why the town is hoping to hire an economic development coordinator to organize the five committees formed to help revitalize the town.
Fortunately, the Rutland Regional Planning Commission has helped secured a $45,000 USDA Enterprise Grant for the town to hire one, something that’s never been done before.
“It’s really exciting,” said Ed Bove, executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. “I know the USDA is tied to that college in many ways, so it was in their best interest to get someone in town to do this work. It’s just for Poultney.”
Bove said the town applied for the grant in March and agreed to match it by 50%, contributing $15,000 to the original $30,000 applied for.
But the RRPC has traditionally filed for grants regarding infrastructure, water and sewer, and other municipal facilities, whereas this grant is to pay for the services of a person or a firm.
“We’ve never done this before to help a town economically,” Bove said. “I literally went door to door getting letters of support for this. To actually see it funded is great for the town.”
Select Board Chairman Jeff King said after the closure of Green Mountain College, the town didn’t skip a beat and began forming committees of local residents to oversee municipal projects to make Poultney more attractive to business owners and tourists.
Five committees are now organizing efforts to revamp downtown, focus on publicizing and improving town recreation, work with employees, energize efforts to bring a bank back into town and acquire broadband internet from Poultney High School all the way down to the Green Mountain College campus.
King said among many other projects — including connecting the Slate Valley Trails to the Rail Trail in town — the Select Board is formulating a job description to publish for the Economic Development Coordinator position.
“Everything is going to take time,” King said. “But the state has been working exceptionally well on this. I’m starting to think the state wants business in Vermont. It’s generally hard to keep a business in here.”
After Green Mountain College was vacated late last month, King said he made it a point to ask local businesses, such as Shaw’s, how businesses were surviving. He said he’s received promising responses so far.
“Williams Hardware is still going strong,” King said. “Taco Experiment is coming along pretty well, and they have some excellent tacos. ... There’s always people in the Full Belly Deli. ... I think Poultney will sustain pretty well.”
King said there are even businesses hoping to move into town, including a couple from Middletown Springs who would like to bring an industrial flour mill to Poultney, murmurings of a bakery and a strengthening desire to bring a pharmacy back to town.
Slate Valley Trails continues to expand and give the town more hope for becoming a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, King said, and looked to Burke Mountain in East Burke as a long-term goal of how to rebrand the town as another hub for mountain bikers.
Given the buyer’s market status of the real estate sector, King said even house sales are going smoothly and more people are moving in.
“There was one house purchased outside the village, and former selectman Tom Coloutti moved to Pennsylvania with his family. His house was sold pretty quickly. ... I don’t see too many problems here.”
A booster for the spirit of Poultney, King said after the townwide grief about Green Mountain College closing settled, the residents didn’t stop: They banded together, met every occasion they could and focused on how to keep the town they loved alive and growing.
“It’s a very pleasant town, Poultney,” King said. “There’s a lot of really good people in this town. When you get 300 people in these meetings with the state, you know they’re still engaged.”
But given the 12-month grant period indicated in the application, Poultney will need to act fast to find someone to organize the troops, but Poultney’s traditional development pattern and strong bones make it a particularly advantageous location for expansion.
“It’s already set up to do something,” Bove said. “I think it is looking bright.”