Fri, Dec 6, 2013 11:03 AM
Bill Stenger receives an award prompting local food for
Bill Stenger, the president/CEO and co-owner of Jay Peak Resort
who transformed the ski area into a full-fledged year-round
destination resort, was recognized for his contributions to the ski
industry and Vermont when he was honored with the prestigious BEWI
Award at a luncheon in Boston on Nov.
In making the award presentation before some 150 members of the
ski industry and media in town for the Boston Ski and Snowboard
Expo, Bernie Weichsel, president BEWI Productions, stated, "Bill
Stenger has set the standard in ski resort development that has
enriched our sport, the economy of an entire region, and the lives
of resort employees and the local communities."
As a ski industry promoter and entrepreneur who produces the
Boston.com Ski & Snowboard Expo among other snowsport shows,
Weichsel has a long career in the ski industry and is also a
familiar face in Killington as a skier and owner of units at the
Inn at Six Mountains. (He himself was honored by the New England
Ski Museum last year with the museum's Spirit of Skiing award in
recognition of his influence in popularizing the sport.)
Weichsel established the BEWI Award in 1985 to "recognize a ski
industry leader who has made an important contribution to the
betterment of the industry."
In his presentation, Weichsel stated that he has personally
"witnessed the personnel benefits Bill brought to Jay … the
humility of the leader … and the atmosphere of being part of a big
Cal Conniff, a former long-time president of the National Ski
Areas Association, praised Stenger for rebuilding Jay, noting he is
also "resurrecting a region known for its poverty; an area where it
is hard to make a living." Citing the economic challenges facing
the Northeast Kingdom, Conniff said, "Bill, you have a big heart
and I want to thank you for what you're doing up there."
Parker Riehle, president of Ski Vermont, the state's trade
association for Alpine and Nordic ski areas, also noted Stenger's
humility, saying it is seen whether in parking cars (at the resort)
or testifying in Washington. The latter was a reference to
Stenger's role in getting the state designated as an EB-5
Riehle characterized the Jay Peak Renaissance as a significant
contribution, adding that "other neighboring communities are
benefiting, not just Jay Peak, Burke, and Newport … The State of
Vermont is lucky to have you," he said in extending his
Weichsel also read a letter of congratulations from Senator
Patrick Leahy, who praised Stenger for "transforming the Northeast
Kingdom" through his "incredible work ethic" and the EB-5
A true visionary who used innovative EB-5 financing to help
accomplish Jay Peak's transformation into a four-season
recreational destination, Stenger's overriding goal has been to
provide year-round employment. When explaining his master plan many
years ago, Stenger stressed the necessity of insulating Jay with
weather-proof year-round activities that would give guests
something to do in summer or anytime inclement weather struck and
provide year-round jobs that would benefit the resort as well as
the region in the shoulder seasons.
Since that time, Jay has built a golf course, three hotels, 250
condominiums, an indoor ice arena, and a huge indoor waterpark with
retractable roof that transforms into an open air facility for fair
weather use and indoor facility the rest of the year.
As a result, Jay had its best season ever last year in terms of
both visits and revenues. For this current year, Jay has invested
another $43 million in projects that include the Stateside Base
Lodge and an adjacent 84-suite hotel and 70 mountain and golf
cottages as well as The Barn event and wedding venue.
And there are similar plans to revive Burke Mountain, which he and
business partner Ariel Quiros acquired in May 2012. In addition to
$1 million in snowmaking upgrades last year and more electric power
for operating the system and snowmaking pipe improvements this
year, ground will be broken for a $15-million 116-suite Hotel Burke
in the spring.
Rising to the EB-5 vision for North East Kingdom
Stenger's entrée into the ski industry came shortly after
graduating from Syracuse University, a time when he caught the 'ski
bug' with trips to Killington. First working in insurance sales,
where he "learned to talk with clients as well as listen to them,"
he soon decided that he would prefer to pursue a life where his
passion lay so he became the membership director of the Eastern Ski
Association based in Brattleboro, Vt.
He next spent several years managing two ski areas in
Pennsylvania, a time when he rose to regional and national ski
industry prominence when he was named chairman of the National Ski
Areas Association's Marketing Committee and later to the NSAA's
board. That connected him to Jay Peak's owners, and he was hired to
manage the Vermont resort in 1984.
Since then, he has worked tirelessly not only for the ski industry
but also by serving on many state and regional business and tourism
boards, Stenger currently serves on Gov. Shumlin's council of
economic advisors. His professional achievements and awards are
numerous and include NSAA's prestigious Sherman Adams Award.
What was instrumental to transforming Jay in the Northeast
Kingdom, the state's most economically challenged area, was
Stenger's foresight and vision to utilize EB-5 financing to secure
his resort's growth.
This feat rests on Stenger's years of work and proven track record
at Jay which led him to combine efforts with Senator Patrick Leahy
to obtain EB-5 Regional Center status for Vermont in 1996. Today,
there are 200 regional centers, but only Vermont's is state run -
by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development led by
Secretary Lawrence Miller.
[The federal EB-5 (Employment Benefits) program was created in
1993 to stimulate the U.S. economy through foreign investment in
projects that would create jobs. The immigrant investment program
offers permanent residency for the investor, a spouse and children
in return for a minimum investment of $500,000, provided at least
10 jobs are created or preserved.]
Working with state and other officials, Stenger was able to
acquire more than 500 EB-5 investors from 56 countries who each
invested $500,000 in Jay projects. (As of a year ago, they included
two hotels, the waterpark, conference center, golf course,
clubhouse, ice arena, and parking deck.)
"It's been a win-win situation for all concerned," with the
"creation of 2,000 jobs as a result of the equity-based investment
program at a time when lending was tough to come by," Stenger noted
lasted year in a press event that included stops at the new Hotel
Jay Conference Center, Newport, and Burke to unveil even bigger
plans for the Northeast Kingdom.
Results expand opportunities
That $250-plus million in foreign investment pumped into Jay Peak
proved just the ammunition that Senators Leahy and Bernie Sanders
along with Congressman Peter Welch needed to help get the EB-5
program (set to expire in 2012) extended for three years. Leahy's
bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a 412-to-3 vote
and was signed by the President.
So what started as a funding mechanism to bring about the
transformation of a sleeping giant of a ski area into a true
four-season resort has morphed into the largest economic
opportunity ever created for Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. It has
the potential to create thousands of diverse jobs, and, perhaps
most importantly, the initiative has credibility, which even those
who distrust government programs can clearly see.
Due to that success, in 2012 Stenger and Quiros were able to
announce a $500 million "economic revitalization initiative" for
the Northeast Kingdom that will create 5,000 to 10,000 direct and
indirect jobs for a region that has the state's highest
The EB-5 program has also benefitted other areas of Vermont,
including Haystack and Sugarbush where projects are being or were
made possible through this funding mechanism. (Efforts have also
spread to neighboring New Hampshire where EB-5 projects are now in
progress at Ragged Mt. among other places.) It is a complex
process, however, that eventually requires a payback of the
investment, so other ski resorts have not jumped on the bandwagon
The BEWI Award and accolades bestowed on Stenger indicate just how
far-reaching ski-area development benefits are to the industry but
also to the economy of a small state like Vermont.
Food for thought
The expansiveness of Stenger's vision and contributions are food
for thought for the Rutland Region as are his comments upon
receiving the award.
He noted that Foster Chandler, a former longtime Killington
marketing director, coined a phrase "There is a world only Alpine
skiers know." Speaking about the passion for the sport that arises
from the ski product, Stenger added, "The sport is the center of
our universe," and that it engenders a similar passion among staff.
"I am blessed to have the staff … people who live in the
communities around our mountains," he said, adding "how important
our community is to our mountain and to me,' and that he is
"blessed to have the opportunity to bring capital to our
Ending on a note of being "very humbled and honored" by the award,
Stenger expressed how "wonderful it is to be with all of you today
who appreciate our industry."
Ironically, both Weichsel and Stenger were influenced in their
passion for skiing and the industry through their early days at
Killington. Stenger has said of Pres Smith, Killington's pioneer
founder, "he is one of my heroes."
Perhaps the lesson here is that when people appreciate the
potential of the ski industry to benefit the greater communities in
which they operate, people pull together to accomplish great
things, which include not only wonderful guest experiences but also
job opportunities and economic vitality.