Doing Business in the Northeast Kingdom

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NEK chamber thumbnailAround the NEK- For all its scenic beauty, the Northeast Kingdom has not traditionally been the easiest region of the state to start a business in.

But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities in the area, according to Bill Morison, co-director of Northern Vermont University's Incubator Without Walls, an organization that offers student-supported technical assistance for small businesses in the region.

"It's perhaps not always the easiest place to launch a company, but the entrepreneurial spirit is strong," he said. "And people have a great love for Vermont and for the Northeast Kingdom, and many folks, if they're gonna do it, they're gonna do it right here."

Morison points to a number of companies that are already successful in the area, like Lyndonville's Pizza Man, that he says are well positioned.

"Those kinds of businesses that can cater to the clientele that is available here, particularly that student population, that's a renewable source of revenue," he said.

And he sees new opportunities, thanks to the rise of e-commerce, that weren't available before.

"While some businesses are constrained by the geography and the local economy, others not so much, because they're trying to do this electronically and have a bigger footprint," he explained. "That's a game changer in some ways in terms of who you're trying to sell to and what their capacity is to pay."

Though it works the other way around, too. Darcie McCann, Executive Director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, notes that physical businesses are now competing against online shops.

"Brick and mortars stores have taken a hit, let's be honest, with Amazon and all the online operations there. So I think our downtowns are having to take a look at what they're doing and doing it a little bit differently and frankly having stores that are a little bit unique to something that you would find online," she said.

Unfortunately, starting an online business can be made difficult by the lack of universal high-speed internet in the rural Northeast Kingdom, says Morison.

"One would hope that we could get over that hurdle sooner rather than later," he said. "I think that would open up the door to a lot more investment and energy and effort in that way."

That's one of the reasons he's excited about the Do North coworking space in Lyndonville. He says entrepreneurs who don't have high-speed internet connectivity at home, or who simply want to be around other people, instead of alone in a home office, can benefit from coworking.

"I think this is an exciting addition to both NVU and to the Lyndon area," he said. "I think it's going to generate a lot of entrepreneurial activity, which is going to be really interesting."

Morison also wants to get the word about the resources available for both people trying to get a business off the ground. With so many different programs around, it can be difficult to know where to turn.

But, he said, "once they get talking to one group, they typically start to learn about all of the other things that are available to them because we're all part of this network."

McCann agrees entrepreneurs should try to connect with groups like iWOW and the Chamber.

"If you're sitting there trying to get off the ground and you don't have any the state and federal programs helping you out," she said, "it makes it very difficult."

And Morison points out that help isn't only available for entrepreneurs -- established businesses can get it as well.

"In spite of the fact that we are the incubator without walls, I would say less than half is with from the ground startup," he said. "Most everything we do, someone's already basically in business, and they've got to the point where they need help to expand or to grow or to improve."