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Looking Back and Forward with the Montpelier Development Corporation

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by Laura Gebhart, former director of the MDC

About a year ago, I aspired to shift my work in economic development from a regional level to a local one. I joined the Montpelier Development Corporation (MDC) early in its existence and jumped into the opportunity to work closely with stakeholders and implement the city’s long-term economic development goals.

Over the past year, I worked with businesses, property owners, the City of Montpelier, Montpelier Alive, and other organizations to bring projects to fruition and set the stage for future economic development in the city. In that time, Montpelier saw more businesses open than close, a few significant projects came to completion, and even more were put underway.

Notably, those projects include the completion of the French Block Apartments and the Stonecliff Veterinary Surgical Center and The Garage Cultural Center, and the start or continuation of projects such as Caledonia Spirits’ new distillery, the Taylor Street Transit Center, the shared-use path extension, concepts for Confluence Park, Shippee Family Eye Care’s expansion, and—despite the ongoing appeal—a downtown hotel and public parking garage.

In that time, I encouraged inclusive conversations that resulted in the pursuit of a downtown master plan and worked closely with the city to re-envision its business revolving loan fund and consider revisions to its tax stabilization policy. I partnered with Montpelier Alive on a number of fronts, including hosting free workshops that provided resources and expert advice to local businesses. There was considerable activity that had short- and long-term implications for the community, with many willing partners wanting to envision and implement projects for the benefit of the city.

Economic development is a long arc that requires years of slow progress, investment, and dedication. My departure from the position offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the work the Montpelier Development Corporation has been able to achieve in a short time, and consider the many remaining opportunities that exist to ensure Montpelier’s long-term viability.

The City of Montpelier was forward-thinking when it created the Montpelier Development Corporation. Very few small cities have the resources and capacity to form a locally dedicated economic development organization. Agency at the local level can be incredibly effective, yet it can easily be mired in local politics. For MDC to be most effective, there needs to be a level of commitment from the community that enables the organization to pursue the long-term goals identified in the Economic Development Strategic Plan.

I’ve retained my passion for working with people and trying to effect positive change, but as a collegiate field hockey coach I’ll be doing so in an environment that responds more quickly to my efforts. While economic development operates on a timeline of five to 20 years, coaching elicits feedback within a season or a couple years. Maybe that’s my age showing. Regardless, I’m encouraged by what I experienced in Montpelier and the opportunities that remain for my successor.

I leave Montpelier encouraged by the opportunities that remain and the impassioned individuals who continue to advocate for the importance of this work.