Wind: 7 mph
By Bob Ackland
Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston and Moretown are all part of a community labeled the Mad River Valley, a natural watershed bordered by mountains on both sides. It is a special place to many of us, full-time residents and second-home owners, some have been born here and some come from places far and wide. As a community there are many components to who and what we are. In my short time in The Valley, starting in the mid-1960s as a guest and as full-time resident over the last 20 years, I am amazed at the outstanding work that has been done to promote conservation, planning, education, recreation and a general quality of life. We have done a good job in these areas of the community system.
Having said that I have always felt that we have ignored a significant component of the community system, the economic sector. Many may ask what a community system is, systems relate to technology or engineering. You may not agree to call it a system, but the fabric of a community is made up of many integrated things that must interact to have a viable community. When any one of these components of the system gets neglected or doesn't function the whole suffers.
I have always felt The Valley's economy has been ignored as a part of the community system. It chugs along driven by many factions but has it been part of our vision for the whole community? I would argue it has not. We have let the market sort of dictate what happens and then we react. There has been good reason for this neglect; understanding the economy, its drivers and consequences, takes data collection from varied sources, research and a forum to discuss the findings. We need to have an economic vision as well as a vision for, say, planning, but since our community is made up of several municipalities that isn't so easy.
I am excited that through the efforts of the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) and Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Mad River Valley community is going to have such an opportunity June 4 at Lareau Farm. The first-ever Mad River Valley Economic Summit will be held beginning at 5:30 p.m. with a community picnic followed by a presentation of what our economy is today and where the opportunities might lie for the future.
Through the efforts of the MRVPD, grants have been secured which enabled the data collection and research to be done to develop a meaningful picture of the MRV economy today and what the trends indicate for the future. Having had the opportunity to review this data in advance of the summit, I can share that for many there might be some surprises and for others a vision of future opportunities. As a community we will have a more unified picture of what drives the economy, where the gaps are and maybe a clearer picture of how to inject more diversity into the economy.
Knowing where the baseline is begins the process. It is tough to know where you are going if you don't know where you are. Are we a destination ski town? Are we a bedroom community to Montpelier and Burlington? What will happen to us if climate change reduces the number of below freezing days by 30 percent by 2030? Do we know and can we agree on what we want? Knowing what are our strengths are today and what is actually happening enables us to make decisions such that we can be prepared for potential change, sudden impact such as Irene and maybe have consensus on where we are going.
Having data is not an answer; having data, understanding the data and taking action based on what the data is indicating is the goal here. The MRVPD and the chamber are committed to not having this be another study that gets done and sits on a shelf. These organizations encourage you to engage, first by coming to the summit and providing feedback and for the future holding these two organizations accountable to take make recommendations from the findings to our public policy boards. Be Better Here – hear the facts, provide input and make a difference.
Bob Ackland lives in Warren. He is vice chair of Warren Select Board and chair of the Mad River Valley Planning District.