RUTLAND - A diverse panel of notable Rutland-area business,
education and municipal leaders gathered last week, along with area
residents, for a brainstorming session held by Campaign for Vermont
designed to generate potential solutions to the various challenges
currently facing Vermonters, particularly those living and working
in Rutland County.
The result: A mix of ideas, all interconnected, which may enable
the Rutland area to reduce crime, attract new business, strengthen
educational programs, offer more well-paying jobs and ultimately
improve its economic landscape.
"Prior to working here, I had bought into the misconception that
Rutland was a dangerous place," said Jim Baker, chief of the
Rutland City Police Department. "What I found was the exact
opposite. I realized Rutland was a special place with great people,
multi-generation Rutland families who support each other and are
willing to band together and tackle some of the issues that are
Baker, one of five panelists at CFV's Rutland community forum,
said that the work of the police department, specifically in
regards to a recent rise in drug and crime activity, is just one
piece of the puzzle in helping Rutland become an economically
vibrant community that is attractive to new businesses and able to
retain homegrown, educated professionals.
"For example, look at the farmer's market that happens each
week," said Baker. "This is a local initiative that energizes the
downtown and brings in over a million dollars in revenue each
year. It's just one of the many good things going on in
the community that help make the city more attractive. From a
police perspective, the expectation is that we provide public
safety and a basic sense of security to residents. But that's just
one factor in the equation. People want to live where there is
quality of life, a good education system, community activities and
a strong economy."
Brendan Collins, finance manager for Wilk Paving and owner of
Collins Wealth Management, is an example of a homegrown, young
professional who chose to return to Rutland after college to start
a career despite the economic challenges of working and living in
"I fully understand why local kids don't come back to this area
after college," said Collins who attended Connecticut College and
Harvard University. "It is very difficult to return to Vermont
where salaries are often half of what they are for the same
position in Boston or New York, while the cost of living is still
Collins said that despite these challenges - not to mention
student loan debt obstacles - Rutland, and Vermont, has a lot to
"As a young professional just starting out, no one in Rutland had
to help me, but they did," he said. "I don't think I would have
seen the same level of support elsewhere. I can call up an
accountant or lawyer or any type of professional if I have a
question - even people I don't know - and they're always so willing
to help me. That's one trait - the people - that makes this area
When asked by Campaign for Vermont founder Bruce Lisman what he
thought could be done to encourage more local talent to return to
Rutland, Collins said that potential student loan forgiveness
programs offered by local employers and the state of Vermont would
be first and foremost.
Assistant Superintendent of Rutland City Public Schools, Rob
Bliss, also served as a panelist at the forum. He echoed Collins'
thoughts on student loan forgiveness options and also talked
several times about enhancing the area's educational focus on STEM
(science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
"I feel it would be of great benefit if our area had a heavier
focus on science and math - both at the secondary and collegiate
levels," said Bliss. "We've got great resources with colleges like
Castleton being so involved in this community, if we could develop
more STEM-based partnerships with schools like them that'd be
Bliss, who expressed that Rutland's greatest product is its
"kids and its community," said with more of a focus on high-tech
jobs and small business development, Rutland could become more
attractive to recent graduates and young families looking to settle
down. He also said he thought work on projects like the Vermont
Western Rail Corridor and Vermont Gas' proposed natural gas
pipeline is important to consider when discussing business growth
and overall economic development in Rutland.
"Innovation, education and infrastructure to me are three of the
most important pillars for supporting economic development in any
area and both retaining and attracting residents," Bliss said.
The success of Stafford Technical Center was cited multiple
times during the forum and panelists and audience members both
questioned whether STC's role could be expanded on in terms of
aiding the local economy.
"Stafford Technical Center is a very nimble institution that can
tailor its training programs as needed," said one audience member.
"I wonder if we couldn't market Rutland to prospective companies
and employers as a place where the training infrastructure is in
place and can be constantly molded and shaped to fit their needs in
terms of producing qualified, well-trained employees. Right now,
many businesses outside of Rutland don't see the right workforce
here, but Stafford could be the link to developing employees to fit
the specific needs of different businesses."
Baker said he also feels STC is a gem for the community, not
only in terms of its training opportunities, but also its role in
helping to clean up the community and reduce crime.
"Let's face it, there are no more jails being built here in
Vermont and we can't arrest our way out of the problems here in
terms of crime and drugs," said Baker. "We're taking a holistic
approach, and a component like Stafford Technical Center fits very
well into that approach. If we're able to connect with troubled
youth from tough family situations and get them to buy into
programs like the ones at Stafford, it would give them the
opportunity to get out of a bad situation. If we can get more local
employers to develop co-op programs through Stafford, such as the
diesel mechanics program that partnered with Casella Waste, and get
these kids into them, that could boost their self esteem, lead them
into a career and potentially allow them to make a fundamental
change in the direction of their lives."
Baker also said that his department, along with others in the
community, is trying to support people in tough situations and help
them make progress in terms of getting on the right track, rather
than pushing them aside.
Rutland City Mayor Chris Louras also referenced a
multi-ingredient recipe that he believes is key to building a
prosperous economy in Rutland County.
"We need to be as friendly as possible to businesses - both
current and prospective businesses," said Louras. "It's certainly a
balancing act in terms of keeping taxes low, but also providing a
sound infrastructure (water, sewer etc.), a high level of public
safety and a quality community environment that all businesses and
Louras also cited current collaboration between the City of
Rutland and local property owners in improving blighted properties
to make them more attractive to prospective homebuyers, renters and
"The more we're able to rehab vacant properties, stabilize
neighborhoods and strengthen community networks, the easier it will
be to break the crime cycle and make Rutland a place where people
want to live and work."