by Rosie Wolf Williams
GMEDC serves 30 towns in east central Vermont
For four and a half years, Joan Goldstein has served as executive director of the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. in White River Junction. Her background working with international financial institutions has served her, and her community, well.
Henry Ford once said, “The highest use of capital is not to make more money, but to make money do more for the betterment of life.” Joan Goldstein, executive director of Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation (GMEDC), is dedicated to such a thought. She believes the first step to economic success is building relationship.
“I get out and meet all the businesses, find out what is going on, what are possible problems, and how do we help. We are the people on the ground,” says Goldstein. “We make sure all the businesses understand about state incentive programs, training programs, dollars available through VEDA [Vermont Economic Development Authority], and financing vehicles that could help make their lives better.”
Case in point: GMEDC recently used a $1.58 million low-interest loan from the Vermont Economic Development Corp. to close on a deal with Pompanoosuc Mills in East Thetford. Nick Levlocke, CFO of Pompanoosuc Mills, is thrilled with the relationship.
“Joan Goldstein and GMEDC are a great business partner and an asset to our community at large. Joan’s hard work and knowledge of available resources helped Pompanoosuc Mills close on a non-traditional financing deal (a sale-leaseback of our factory), in turn significantly reducing our monthly debt service,” says Levlocke. “She also identified and secured available grant money to fund a required feasibility study.” The company plans to expand and increase its workforce over the next three years.
Goldstein’s passion for her work is evident. She’s on the steering committee of a group working to create a statewide development plan, and she’s called on the help of Mollie Naber, an economic development consultant, to do a workforce skills demand analysis. She is also going after an initiative by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to improve broadband Internet service in the Sharon business district.
A warm memory is having been part of the flood grant process following Hurricane Irene. “We finished the allocation meetings late on a Friday afternoon, so by the time I got back to the office it would have been after business hours. I called everybody who was going to be a recipient. It was some of the best phone calls I’ve ever had.”
Her days are fast-paced and filled with variety. “The more people you get to know — the more you develop your network — the more opportunities come through and the more you are able to add value,” she says.
Goldstein is on the road in Vermont most of the week, but she used to navigate New York City’s raucous streets by taxi and meet with executives in high-rise offices.
Early in 2001, her husband, Mark, had retired from law enforcement. Dreaming of a way to get to Vermont, they had visited his parents, who had retired to Vermont, and looked at houses to buy. When, on September 11, Goldstein watched the terrible chain of events in Manhattan, she knew that she, her husband, and their son, Evan, then 11, needed to make the move.
That same day, Mark was on his way to Vermont to see his father, who had suffered a heart attack the day before. Mark was detained at JFK and unfortunately did not arrive before his father died. The next day Goldstein piled the rest of the family — her son, mother, father, sister, and Mark’s brother-in-law — into her mother’s car and drove north.
“It was like a sanctuary,” she says. “That day was very strong; the contrast of having to be up here for the funeral and having a few days of respite — that was the seed.” One day after her return to New York, she encountered a roadblock on her way to work. A police officer said there was a bomb threat. She was paralyzed with fright. “I remember calling the office and saying, ‘I’ve got to move to Vermont.’ I’ll never forget that.”
It took a few years for the move to become reality. But Goldstein was used to creating her own destiny. She spent her childhood in Brooklyn and in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., the fifth of seven children in a working class family (her father was a butcher and her mother, a homemaker). There was no expectation that she continue to college after high school. “But I knew,” says Goldstein. “I was driven, and I knew I needed to go to college.”
She pursued a wide variety of liberal arts classes at City University at Queens College before focusing on economics. She met Mark at a gathering spot for college students. “It was the height of disco. We just kept meeting with his friends and my friends. He made me laugh, and he still does. We’ve been married 28 years, and I have known him for 33. I have known him longer than I didn’t know him.”
After Goldstein finished her undergraduate studies she was hired at Morgan Guarantee, later known as J.P. Morgan. “I was in the back office in money transfer investigations. We would investigate how multi-million dollar transactions went awry all over the world. It gave me an entry into international banking and finance.“
The company paid for her master’s degree, and she moved within the company to correspondent banking, traveling and working with international financial institutions. She then went into the equity capital markets area, working with foreign corporations that wanted their stock shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
“I worked there for many years, doing client relationship management, sales, and marketing,” says Goldstein. “It wasn’t straight finance; it was all about the customer: people and relationships and understanding what makes them tick, what their problems are, and how you could possibly help solve them. No one teaches you that. It is just endlessly fascinating to deal with different cultures from around the world.”
In the late ’90s, Goldstein moved to project management, working in a new world of online applications, “client-facing” applications, and banking services. Eventually, she left J.P. Morgan to run and revamp the client services site of Credit Suisse.
Before moving to Vermont, Goldstein discovered the magic of eBay. She owned a baby grand piano, but it had a broken soundboard and no pedigree. Someone suggested she sell it on eBay.
“I took a few photographs and put it on eBay. Three days later the thing sold for $500. I was hooked. Everybody in New York has a storage container full of all sorts of furniture from a country house, or they are always upgrading or one-upping one another. They always had stuff to sell. So I started selling. I really liked it, so I thought maybe I would do that in Vermont.”
Mark found a job in Vermont, and they committed to the move in 2005. Not wanting to live in a suburban area, they found a “big old house in Royalton — a real flatlander mistake,” she says, laughing. “It was ‘historic’; it was ‘gorgeous.’ My husband went off to work, and my son went off to school. I was in a giant house, in a tiny town.”
Goldstein took trips to New York and picked up items to sell on eBay, but she wasn’t satisfied. “I said to myself, ‘I have got to get a job.’ I went to the Vermont Technical College website — I thought maybe I could teach a class on selling on eBay.”
Then she saw a job listing for the Small Business Development Center’s business and technology adviser. The opening was in the White River Junction office, which shared space with GMEDC.
“I got the job,” she says. “It was very interesting — I learned all about small business in Vermont.“ Three years later, when Neal Fox of GMEDC was leaving his position, he suggested to Goldstein that she interview for the spot. Now four and a half years into the job, she says she is exactly where she wants to be.
Goldstein defines GMEDC as helping industry come together with government and workforce. “We want to make sure that businesses survive and thrive, grow, and create good jobs, and that people have jobs to go to and get good training,” explains Goldstein. “It all has a great interdependency and symbiotic relationship. Because people are employed, they are paying taxes, and the towns thrive. It all makes sense.”
Goldstein played a large part in creating an apprenticeship program that allows workers to train on the job and earn credits as well as increases in pay. “Joan spearheaded area businesses that were faced with an aging workforce in manufacturing and not enough new recruits in the advanced machinist arena,” says Lucy Lesperance, human resource manager of North Hartland Tool Corp.
“Joan kept us on the right track. Vermont Technical College is now offering an advanced machinist program. North Hartland Tool Corp. currently has five apprentices in this program and none of this would have happened without Joan’s perseverance and extensive knowledge of getting the right people together. She truly wants to help area businesses grow and prosper, and she always has a smile while doing so.”
Goldstein is now working on skills analysis to understand demands for skill sets and to find educators to teach recruits. “The thing you get here, that you don’t have in the big city, is this enormous ability to make an impact. It is very much a network — your reputation is your lifeline. It is [the same way] in the cities, but here it is even more up close. It is so much more personal. Everybody knows somebody.” •