By Lani Duke
Hundreds hired for the holidays
The week after Thanksgiving and the remainder leading up to Christmas are the busiest time of year for the Vermont Country Store in Clarendon. To fill all those holiday orders the store hires more than 500 additional employees, split about evenly between the distribution center and the call center, to ship 18,000 to 20,000 orders a day.
Health Center stays open
Offices at the former Green Mountain Family Care, 71 Allen St., are scheduled to stay open as part of the Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region. It serves about 2,500 patients. Dr. Mark Logan had purchased Green Mountain Family Care, a three-facility practice, from Dr. Charles Egbert in 2008. When he found out the primary care practice was “basically financially nonviable,” having consistently lost money and subsidized by its addiction medicine practice on Stratton Road, he turned to CHCRR, which already provided about 75 percent of family care needs in the county. Under the new leadership, patients will be able to continue being served in their familiar environment as CHCRR hires, interviews and recruits permanent medical staff.
Video communications restructuring
Non-profit Vermont Interactive Technology (VIT), long housed at the Stafford Technical Center and 12 other sites around the state, closes its operation at the end of the year. It has been providing face-to-face learning and conference opportunities for Vermonters dispersed across the state for more than 20 years.
VTC has been VIT’s largest client; the expense for keeping its programs going about equal what the college had been paying out in user fees, some $150,000 annually. Although its $800,000 annual appropriation is no more, there is a new form of long-distance learning ready to take its place as part of Vermont Technical College. VTC had been providing electrical engineering classes long-distance since August, ironically in the same building as VIT.
However, the new system is a scaled-back version of the VIT operation that had won national awards for distance learning. It lacks staff, having no on-site technician who can adjust microphones and cameras, and fix sudden problems.
And there is another shortage, this for outside users. Only VTC and the Department of Labor
apprenticeship programs are eligible to use the new system. A number of other users have not yet found a satisfactory alternative. Among them are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 300, which had been conducting its monthly meetings on VIT; and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Vermont, conducting hearings in Burlington and Rutland but allowing conferencing in VIT locations. The loss of VIT access is expected to add even more hardship for many of those filing bankruptcy. Current web-based alternatives may too easily suffer communication failures during a proceeding, bankruptcy officials indicate.
The Public Service Board and the Joint Fiscal Office are among the organizations that also have used VIT and are now without a viable alternative. The state legislature has set up a “working group” to examine whether VIT assets may be used in a less expensive, less sophisticated videoconference system that would serve those former VIT clients that have been squeezed out of their statewide communication means.
Planned for placement under the Department of Public Service and with operation by users themselves, the new system would require approximately $220,000 in construction funds and $100,000 in annual maintenance. One proposed name is Vermont Video Connect. A final report is due December 1.
VEDA aid boosts to local businesses
The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) recently granted financial packages to two local businesses: Atomic Professional Audio, Inc., of North Clarendon, and Casella Waste Systems, Inc., of Rutland.
Growth at Atomic Professional Audio, Inc., has prompted the company to purchase and make leasehold improvements at a new facility in the Airport Industrial Park with nearly five times the space it has been leasing in Rutland. The company supplies and leases event and concert staging, lighting, video, power distribution, and other needs. VEDA approved financing for $920,000 of a $2.3 million package; Within three years of the expansion, Atomic Professional Audio plans to increase its labor force from 20 to 28. Financing is via TD Bank and Rutland Economic Development Corporation.
Casella Waste Systems received VEDA inducement approval for a $35 million tax-exempt facility bond for ongoing capital expenditures over a three-year period. The improvements include state-of-the-art landfill capacity development and system upgrades; new fuel-efficient transportation equipment; new container and compactor equipment; replacement of older, less efficient machinery; and infrastructure investment to improve safety, environmental compliance, and productivity. Casella employs about 1,950 people, with a Vermont work force of 545, a number that is expected to grow to 575 within three years.
Creek Road bridge fate discussed
The Wallingford Select Board is discussing whether to repair or replace the 84-foot-long Creek Road bridge. Built in 1922, the bridge is a major traffic carrier for Wallingford residents on their way to Rutland. Although the bridge shows cracking and “spalling” on its supports, the most recent state inspection reported the bridge to be in need of work but still usable.
In 2012, engineering consultant firm DuBois and King recommended renovations; the town has set aside $90,000 for repair, with hopes of finding matched funding from the state. Whether to repair or replace may depend on timelines. According to Brooks, the town may be required to do both. Finding replacement funds may be too lengthy a process.
The bridge is not yet on the Vermont bridge replacement list, but getting it there may not be easy. State representative David Potter, who not only represents Wallingford in the state legislature but also chairs the House Transportation Committee, has said state representatives have relatively little influence on Agency of Transportation projects. However, he is sure the state is aware that the Creek Road bridge is in need of upgrade; he categorized it as probably “functionally obsolete” because of its narrowness.
City takes tree care seriously
The Rutland City Public Works Committee has endorsed the sole new position—an assistant city forester—in the Department of Public Works budget to help current city forester David Schneider manage the city’s watershed and the urban forest. The demands on the forester have grown heavy, extending outside the city’s borders to include city-owned woodland in Mendon, and the job can be dangerous, especially for an individual working alone. Given assistance, the forester can add revenue to the city from timber sales, an opportunity currently being missed.
No job description exists for an assistant forester, according to Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg; there has been no such position before. Another factor driving the creation of an assistant forester is the realization that Schneider becomes eligible for retirement next year, Wennberg said, noting that a “transition” in the not-so-distant future seems likely.
Yet another contributing factor is the discovery of red pine scale insects in nearby trees in Shrewsbury and Mendon. The pests have been moving north from southern New England, although the insects themselves seem rare in Vermont. The pattern of red pine deaths resembles that of an infestation. Once infected, trees often die in a few years. The century-old city-owned trees were originally planted on former farmland, partially as an attempt to improve water quality, Schneider said. Harvesting them for their lumber now would not only bring in income but would be a good preventive measure. If they were to die on-site, the water quality would suffer.
to Rutland City’s new police chief Michael Jones, who received his official swearing-in at the Center Street fire station on Nov. 17 after an eight-week breaking-in period. His two-year contract is to build a team, with the goal of encouraging current firefighters to apply to be his replacement.
to Lake Sunapee Bank recently received a top Community Reinvestment Act rating, among fewer than 10 percent of U.S. financial institutions. Recognition rewards meeting its local community credit needs.
Local food pantries are blessed by all who participated in Rutland’s Stuff-a-Bus campaign Nov. 12-14. Donors filled more than two buses with non-perishable foods at Hannaford supermarket in Rutland Town, Rutland Discount Foods on Cleveland Avenue, and Price Chopper in downtown Rutland. Beneficiaries are Salvation Army and BROC Community Action in Southwestern Vermont. Both Price Chopper and Hannaford aided the food gathering effort by offering pre-packed Stuff-A-Bus bags to their shoppers, ready for donors to grab and go as they passed through cash register lines.