Northern Vermont Chambers Group effort for VSCS

AROUND THE NEK- The last couple weeks have not been the easiest in the Northeast Kingdom in the state of Vermont, with Covid-19 continuing to spike in surrounding states. But Vermont faced an economic threat as three Colleges in the Vermont State College System were in jeopardy of closing. Many have stepped in to make sure these colleges stay open, including several Northern Vermont Commerce Chambers.

 

A facebook post had been made on April 17th on the Northeast Kingdom Vermont Chamber of Commerce to let people of the community know what efforts are being made in order to keep these institutions open. Another post had been made shortly after that on April 22nd, hinting that a number of Chambers are now grouping together to take action.

The post stated, "Stay tuned; we are working on some initiatives to ensure the future solvency and viability of these institutions. The NEK Chamber, Lyndon Area Chamber and Lamoille Chamber of Commerce are all working together on this very important issue affecting our regions."

I have now spoken with all three institutions to see what progress has been made so far. After talking with Darcie McCann the Executive director of Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce she tells us that the group includes the Northeast Kingdom Chamber, Lyndon Area Chamber, Lamoille Chamber, as well as the Stowe Area Chamber. The group has tried to reach out to the Randolph Chamber of Commerce but has not heard back. In order to help the VSCS stay afloat the group is focusing on three things.

First and foremost, is an economic impact study on how these institutions have an effect on not only this region, but the state. "Well yes, this would be catastrophic for the regions affected. If they were to close it would also be for the state. Looking at the job loss, people going on social assistance, education that students would not be able to afford or go to anymore through the state colleges. In many different ways it would be an economic tsunami for the state."

Second, they wanted a study done looking at the programs at the particular institutions, the ones that are working, the ones that are not. Maybe generating ideas to rework the programs, looking at different ways of offering them. "Honestly there may be some tough decisions ahead as they decide what these institutions need to be. But they have to succeed, and they have to keep open." Third, was to tap into the alumni base of all three institutions. To send out some sort of appeal to existing students and past students to bridge ideas and funds together.

An interesting point, all of the Chambers agree that the closing of the school would affect their members as well. As well as the economic impact this would have on the state. After speaking with Tess Milner, the Executive Director of Lamoille Chamber of Commerce, she says Northern Vermont University is one of the members of Lamoille Chamber of commerce.

"We are also very involved with the community not just within our members supporting our community as a whole and try to boost the financial health of the community. So, this is huge not only to the Lamoille Region but also to the whole state. It would affect so much and it would be absolutely devastating if these colleges were to actually close."

So, the Lamoille Chamber along with the other chambers feel it is vital to support the colleges so that they may stay open. Milner says that if the colleges were to close Northern Vermont University would likely withdraw their membership as a cost saving method. "So that's one portion of it, and they're one of our larger members."

Sarah Lafferty, the president of Lyndon Area Chamber of Commerce says that the closing of the schools would not just affect their members but our community members in surrounding areas of the region. "Business and education go hand and hand in the state of Vermont. Our businesses know that they need our colleges to support them, and vice versa."

She speaks on the behalf of Lyndonville and surrounding areas regarding how many people would have to leave the area. "Actual people, taxpayers, humans, friends, neighbors, people that we care about. The ripple effect, the economic ripple effect, the social ripple effect." She says that we are trying to increase population in Vermont, and this closing of schools would not help the state.

Lafferty and McCann express that at this moment the main goal is for all the Chambers to be on the same page. But because COVID-19 has been overwhelming for everyone, it is causing some efforts to slow down. Making connections and having conversations is the best thing that anyone can do in this situation, along with collecting the necessary data.

McCann adds to that by expressing that all the chambers will be doing everything they can to help keep these three institutions open. However, the battle is not over for VSCS, even if the college system finds the funds, that it cannot just be funds for the next year. Funds should continue past that point to keep these colleges going.