Nurture’s His Nature

by Julia Lynam

Fostering entrepreneurs is business as usual for Dick Angney

As executive vice president of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corp. in Montpelier, Dick Angney uses his experience in commercial lending to help create jobs in Washington County and three adjacent towns in Orange County.

In more than 40 years as a commercial lender and economic development expert in central Vermont, a quiet man like Dick Angney can touch many lives. Among them have been those of Annie Christopher and Peter Backman of Annie’s Naturals, the country’s number-one selling brand of natural salad dressing, and a company that has seen 20 percent growth in each of the last 20 years.

“Dick Angney was the first person to lend us money for the business,” recalls Backman. “We were just getting started and it’s always hard to raise money, but he liked our brand.”

“He was really helpful,” adds Christopher, “He was the first person to explain to us how important it is to make a profit as opposed to just making a lot of sales.”

In typical Vermont fashion, Angney’s connection with Backman and Christopher goes back further: They live in a North Calais farmhouse owned by seven generations of Backman’s family, and Angney arranged loans for both Backman’s mother and his grandmother. Today, at the top of their field, Annie’s owners still turn to Angney as a sounding board for discussing business plans.

Executive vice president of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation (CVEDC) for the last eight and a half years, Angney is putting the expertise he gained as a commercial lender with local banks to good use helping to shape the economic development of the state.

“Our mission is to create jobs in a part of the state covering Washington County and three adjacent towns in Orange County,” he explains. “We facilitate economic activity - which may be an expansion of an existing business, or may be a business coming to the area that needs to find space - and we administer a loan program for the Small Business Administration.

“We also sometimes own real estate and lease it to a particular business because we can get more favorable terms than they can. Some companies don’t want the money showing up on the balance sheet; they want to invest in the operations of the business rather than the bricks and mortar.”

This approach was successfully adopted with the 110,000-square-foot railroad car plant in Barre built for Canadian company Bombardier beginning in 1980 and financed through the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The company leased the plant from CVEDC with an option to buy at a nominal cost, which it eventually did. Bombardier terminated its Vermont operations three years ago, and the plant is being sold to Northern Power Systems, which has also made good use of CVEDC’s services.

Angney and Jennifer Surat, the administrative assistant, have helped such companies as Annie’s Naturals and Bombardier to locate in central Vermont.

“Northern Power has been in central Vermont for more than 30 years,” Angney says. “They started by refurbishing wind turbines and have now gone into the distributive energy business. Over the last five years they’ve grown dramatically from 50 employees to around 175 - and these are all very good-paying jobs, many in engineering. We helped Northern Power to construct their new 28,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Waitsfield, which we currently own and lease to them.”

Diffraction Ltd., also of Waitsfield, is a good example of a smaller CVEDC client. “We helped them finance the purchase of the building they’re in and they’ve doubled their employment from 10 to over 20 in the past year or so,” says Angney, adding that Waitsfield is a center of economic development in the area largely because of the high level of services provided by Waitsfield Telecom.

Over the years, CVEDC’s client list has included such names as Ben & Jerry’s, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Cabot Creamery, Cabot Hosiery, Capitol Plaza and the New England Culinary Institute (NECI), which was helped with the purchase of its first building in Montpelier.

CVEDC also matches people up with spaces, without financial involvement. Angney helped Zutano, the children’s clothing company in Cabot, to find much-needed warehousing space in East Montpelier. “Their headquarters are way up here,” he says, indicating the farthest reaches of a map of his area, “and getting an 18-wheeler up there is not fun about six months of the year! We maintain a place on our website where people can see what sites are available in the area.”

Founded in 1976 by local business people, CVEDC is one of 12 regional development corporations in the state. Each receives equal funding from the Vermont Department of Economic Development, regardless of population or area served. “We also get some support from municipalities in the region, and we have about a hundred individual and corporate members who pay an annual subscription,” says Angney, “and we generate funds through the administration of the SBA loan program.”

The staff comprises Angney and administrative assistant Jennifer Surat, who has been with CVEDC since 1999. Based in Montpelier, CVEDC provides office space for Small Business Development Center adviser John Brennan, an employee of Vermont Technical College. Brennan works with business start-ups developing business plans, and with existing companies on refinancing, marketing and general advice.

In addition to the more public aspects of his work, Angney has invested a lot of time in the last eight and a half years in upgrading the corporation’s office systems to serve members more quickly and effectively.

As a commercial lender in the area, Angney served on the board of the CVEDC for 11 years before coming on staff in 1996. “My background was very relevant,” he says. “As a lender I was interested in working with individual businesses and leveraging our resources.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Angney moved with his family to Arlington when he was a child. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics in 1963. He and his wife, Alice, have lived in East Montpelier for 42 years, raising four daughters and tending a 300-acre piece of woodland that includes a Christmas tree plantation.

His position as co-chairman of the Vermont Association of Regional Development Directors enables Angney to see shared concerns throughout the state. Challenges he sees ahead include keeping down the growing cost of doing business in Vermont’s heartland and attracting enough people to fill
vacancies.

The area’s long winter and heating season may be one of the roots of both of these issues, although high electricity costs and - especially as fuel costs continue to increase - remoteness from major centers of population can hamper growth.

“On regular visits to businesses I hear that workers’ compensation is a huge issue,” he says. “Vermont’s program is particularly expensive. We’re working with the state on legislation to help with the cost of that program.

“Cost and availability of housing is also an issue. There’s just not a stock of housing available. This is true across the board. Lower-income people are being priced out of the market, and people with good incomes coming into the area are having a hard time, too, as there is very little speculative housing development in this area.”

This situation may change, he conjectures, if the flow of buyers from Chittenden County, who have in recent years moved into lower-housing-cost areas including central Vermont, is stemmed by concerns about the rising cost of commuting. “People were willing to travel fairly long distances if the house was right, but the economics shift when gas prices increase dramatically.”

Technical, production, and especially construction workers are in short supply in the area, he says. With unemployment at around 4 percent, some employers find it difficult to recruit staff.

“Health care is also a concern everywhere I go,” Angney continues. “No one has an answer. We appreciate having the best health care possible for ourselves and we have to pay for it. We have a medical center here in the area, which we feel is a real asset, rather than having to go to Burlington or Dartmouth for medical care. They are currently going through minor expansion, mostly renovation of a 30-year-old facility. They control costs fairly well, but they still go up.”

Central Vermont is not alone in such concerns. Angney is a member of the board of directors of the Northeastern Economic Development Association, which includes communities from Maryland to Maine, and he meets many other members finding themselves facing similar issues in different areas.

Vermont is, however, fortunate to have an effective network of economic development corporations already tackling these issues together with businesses, chambers of commerce and state agencies. Ken Horseman, communications director of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, recently received some feedback on this point. “A group of consultants who came to Vermont to make a promotional DVD, after having worked with economic development organizations in 40 other states,” he says, “told me that although every state talks about partnership, Vermont really does it.”

With a continued emphasis on cooperation, Angney and his board of directors are aiming to help Central Vermont produce more successes like Annie’s Naturals. •

Originally published in October 2005 Business People-Vermont