The Mountain Times

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Vermont Digital Economy Project begins assisting flood-impacted communities

On Monday, April 8, The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) announced the first round of communities to receive intensive services from its Digital Economy Project this year. The Vermont Digital Economy Project is designed to increase resilience and foster economic development in flood-impacted Vermont communities. In the past week, project staff met with town officials and other community leaders in Bethel, Royalton, Waterbury, Wilmington, and Halifax to commit to the provision of key services. In the coming weeks they will visit Rochester, Killington, and Woodstock, among several other towns.  

"It was difficult to prioritize which towns to serve first, because we received so many compelling applications from towns that were greatly impacted by flooding," said Sharon Combes-Farr, project director of the Vermont Digital Economy Project. "The town's self-assessment of their community's level of need for our disaster relief services and the degree to which flooding had impacted the community were the most important considerations."

All of the services delivered by the Vermont Digital Economy Project will foster resilience and economic development through greater utilization of online tools.  These services include: providing digital workshops and one-one-one advising for nonprofits, farm and forest businesses, and other small businesses; creating new downtown Wi-Fi zones and hotspots; evaluating town websites and enhancing them; deploying an integrated community calendar and community-based online forum; and establishing an Internet Intern program to provide digital literacy training at local libraries.

These services are delivered at no cost to selected towns as part of the project's disaster relief grant from the Economic Development Administration.

"We are carefully considering where to deploy public Wi-Fi and make improvements to town websites, since these are the two most requested services from the towns that applied, as well as the most resource-intensive for us to deliver," said Combes-Farr. "Our announcement today is just the beginning. Fortunately, we have the resources and partnerships to serve nearly every town that has applied so far. The Digital Economy Project is interested in hearing from additional towns that may need services and will identify a second round of communities for services before the end of the year."

Over the past several weeks, the VCRD and Vermont Digital Economy Project staff had reached out to town clerks, local chambers of commerce, libraries, and all of Vermont's state senators and representatives to encourage as many communities as possible to apply for project services by the March 15 round-one application deadline. 24 towns applied.

The Vermont Digital Economy Project is an 18-month project that ends in July, 2014. In the coming months, we will announce the procedure and timing for how additional towns can submit applications for grant services.