Bookmark and Share

Originally published in Business People-Vermont in 2004.

It's Been Quite a Ride

20 years of commercial and industrial development

by Bradford J. Worthen

A drive up Church Street

As a native of Chittenden County, I've witnessed many economic development changes around our state in the last 20 or more years.

As a teenager in South Burlington, I used to drag race my mom's '66 Mustang up Church Street when it was two lanes, one way, and long before it was pedestrian-friendly. Walking the Marketplace today, we witness positive development and the resulting change enjoyed by all who visit.

Gone are large department stores such as Magrams, Abernethy's, Woolworth's and JC Penney's, replaced by smaller and seemingly thriving boutique specialty retailers.

The Burlington Shopping Center, University Mall and the Burlington Square Mall have all seen retailers come and go, renovations made and vacancies filled. Filene's arrival heralded the first big department store in some time from "down country" and was a big feather in the cap of retail economic development. Today, we enjoy the variety and buying power national name-brand stores bring.

The Lang Farm has stopped farming, Wal-Mart has arrived, and Maple Tree Place is looking inviting these days. We now enjoy movie theaters with seats as comfortable as the La-Z-Boy at home.

Class A office space is everywhere, and Exit 16 in Colchester provides some of the most spectacular office views available in the Champlain Valley. Many Vermont companies have moved to the industrial suburbs of Williston's E Commerce Park, Milton's Catamount Park and South Burlington's Technology Park.

Burlington International Airport has evolved into a transportation mecca. Long gone are most of the turbo-prop puddle-jumpers. Today we have a choice of seven commercial carriers offering jet service and access to every state in the union plus four foreign continents, all at competitive fares, making alternative departures from Montreal, Manchester or Boston no longer financially attractive.

Twenty years ago, if you didn't have a boat, there were few reasons to go down to Burlington's waterfront. Gone are the grain elevators, Naval Reserve Station, rickety docks and industrial setting that put the shipping port of Burlington on the charts 200 years ago. Our waterfront is the gem of the city, providing cultural, dining, entertaining, shopping, offices and housing, and the best sunset this side of California.

We have survived the changing of the guard at Ben & Jerry's, welcomed Husky, transitioned GE to General Dynamics and let go of Digital. Locally owned and operated Burton Snowboards is a global player. The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. is 15 years old and undergoing a major expansion.

IDX is the darling of what is right about being a start-up business in Vermont, and I think we all finally! understand the importance of doing whatever necessary to keep our longtime economic development champion IBM happy and, more important, in Vermont.

Many of these economic transitions can be attributed to an escalating command of the economic development process by the private sector. Twenty years ago, much of the county's ability to attract new industry rested on the shoulders of the government and public-sponsored economic development organizations, such as the Vermont Department of Economic Development, The Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. and Cynosure, along with regional development corporations.

Today, much of the vision, investment and risks of economic development come from the private sector. Vermont is fortunate to have a large group of business visionaries who live and work here and want to invest in its economic prosperity.

As we witness the global exportation of many of our manufacturing jobs from Vermont, we need to replace those jobs with opportunities come from emerging growth and start-up companies. We must foster and promote these companies by providing financing, sound business guidance, a trained work force, available and affordable housing, high-speed communications, and quality incubator and flex-space facilities.

The proposed regional technical center, Champlain College's Center for Global Business & Technology, the University of Vermont's Vermont Business Center and the Dartmouth College Entrepreneurial Network will play a vital role in encouraging these emerging companies and provide for a future of positive economic development throughout our state.

While I wish for one more chance to ride up Church Street in the old Mustang, I know I'll enjoy the walk instead, made possible by the last 20 or more years of economic prosperity. •

Brad Worthen is director of marketing for REM Development Co. LLC in Williston, commercial and industrial developer of manufacturing, distribution, warehouse and flex space.

Originally published in October 2004 Business People-Vermont

Bookmark and Share