Last week I had the opportunity to speak to the Hildene Board of Directors.  I shared with them our 2020 Vision and how the Chamber wants to work over the coming years to combine the story of the Northshire and Southshire into one cohesive brand. 

In addition, I shared with them some of the initiatives we’ve worked on this year and items that are coming up. I’d like to share those with our readers today.

Recreation:  Recently the Chamber has brought two different groups together to work on our recreational assets and how we can work better to showcase those to our visitors and residents.  We now have a Northshire Recreational Task Force and a Southshire Recreational Task Force made up of about 10-12 community members each.  Later this fall we will be combining those task forces into the first Shires Recreational Summit.  What’s great about this initiative is that it parallels (and something we didn’t really know was going to happen) the Governor’s newly launched initiative, the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC).  We now work side by side with his initiative and will host the VOREC committee at our summit in the fall. To learn more visit:

Transportation:  In partnership with the Town of Bennington, Town of Manchester, Bennington County Regional Commission, Amtrak and the State of Vermont, we recently launched the Vermont Shires Connector, which is a shuttle service from the Albany–Rensselaer train station to Bennington and Manchester.  In fact, this transportation system goes well beyond just the Capital Region.  Riders can now purchase a ticket from Penn Station in New York City to Bennington or Manchester, Vermont!  They hop on the Amtrak train and take that to the Albany–Rensselaer train station and within 15 minutes hop on the Vermont Shires Connector shuttle and are whisked away to the Shires of Vermont.  There are currently two bus routes running (morning and night) with stops in Manchester, Bennington, the Albany–Rensselaer train station, the Albany International Airport and the bus station in downtown Albany.  To learn more visit:

Entrepreneurial Development: Our collaboration with The Lightning Jar, Bennington’s coworking and creative economy space, has proved beneficial as we work together to divide responsibilities.  When start-up businesses or potential businesses connect with the Chamber we can easily send them over to The Lightning Jar’s team for further engagement, mentorship, growth and incubation.  This fall this partnership will get even stronger as we gear up to offer an 8-week intensive course called the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program on Mondays from6pm-8pm.  To learn more visit:

Entertainment & Events: With the ongoing success of Garlicfest we are able to try out other pilot events.  The first successful one we saw this spring was our Southern Vermont Wings and Winter Homebrew Festival, which received a Top 10 Vermont Winter Event award in its first year.  This event will return on March 24, 2018! With the success of the Wings and Winter Homebrew event, we have also worked to create something for the younger crowd in the Shires – we’re calling it the Rock N Brews Music Concert Series.  Our first event is going to be on October 21st at Southern Vermont College with 3 East Coast bands playing, 5 food trucks and 10 home brewers all coming together to enjoy the October night sky! To learn more visit:

Young Professionals: Speaking of younger events, we are working with our local young professional groups to add resources, staffing, financing and branding to give their initiatives a boost.  Along with younger events, look in the coming year for Social Hours, mentorship programs, educational programs… and of course more rock shows!

Education:  One of the major questions we get asked when people are looking to locate to the Shires is about our education system.  This past year we partnered with the ongoing efforts of the Workforce and Education group that has backing from the Bennington County Industrial Corporation.  Because of the amazing success of this group (Career Month, Reality Fair, Job Fair, Sophomore Summit, Reverse Job Fair, etc.), we have started a Northshire Workforce and Education group.  The Northshire has different challenges when dealing with education and workforce demands, yet the enthusiasm and devotion of this group is parallel to what we see here. The citizens that come out and work together to improve their communities continually encourage us to keep going.

Tourism:  This has been a great year for tourism where we have heard numerous stories of stores, lodging, dining establishments and events seeing a bump in attendance and sales.   With our first fully regional Visitors Guide launch in May we are moving them so fast we’re projected to run out locally before we launch the next one! Not to worry, we plan ahead and have reserves.  Additionally, our partnership with the New England Newspaper and the GOshires VT app has been getting increasingly stronger in downloads and shows us as a progressive region with new technologies to assist.  Our website has grown 3 times since early 2015, now seeing numbers of 18,000 visitors visiting over 60,000 webpages a month at We are creating a collective suite of tools for our visitors to come and enjoy their stay with us and we’re seeing the benefit of that!

Hopefully many of you have begun to feel the changing winds too.  With these initiatives, as we presented them to the board and now you, we’re asking for patience with a sense of urgency, support with the idea that we can challenge the norm, ongoing leadership with a focus on serving the community first, and the ability to address the brutal facts of Southern Vermont’s situation with the unwavering faith that we will prevail in the end.

Always Onward,
Matt Harrington