A SOUTHERN VERMONT OF TOMORROW PART 1
When we look at the future of Southern Vermont and specifically, how the next few years will have enormous impact on that future, there are vast amounts of perspectives and ideas that one could suggest.
For the purpose of adding one concept or perspective for consideration, I'd like to take the next series of columns I write and speak to creating a Southern Vermont of tomorrow. The hope is that as we look at what tomorrow might bring, we can focus today on the hard work to bring about that brighter tomorrow.
One perspective that I try to view southern Vermont development with is through generations. Perhaps two of the most important generations to focus on, specifically when discussing tourism, economic development and housing, are the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation Y, or Millennials (1980-2001). Both will play a key role in the development of the state albeit on different ends of the spectrum. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, have disposable income and are still healthy enough to travel and enjoy life, especially in Southern Vermont. Equally important, Millennials, at 90 million people in the U.S., are the next generation that will have a sizable impact on everything from climate, business, health, tourism and community development. Not to be left our Gen Xers (1965-1979), you are in positions of knowledge, power and authority to make these changes. If this series is meant for anyone, its you, those that have the most decision-making ability.
"If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation," retorts Don Draper in one of the earlier episodes of Mad Men. One could heed this wisdom especially when it comes to branding, marketing and communication. Southern Vermont has a long, somewhat isolationist past - one that we are stubbornly proud of at times. Many times this has saved us from too aggressively making commitments which have global impact.
We never fall as low as others, but we never rise as fast either.
This binary, sometimes isolationist, hard-headedness has also left us, if only perception-wise, as seeming antiquated, behind the times, struggling with change, and the death knell for Millennials, technologically inept.
If we want to attract Millennials, we must start to change the conversation about Southern Vermont to the world. Some of this has already started to happen with the "REI-type" of experience that the Vermont Department of Tourism has begun to unveil in its "Elements" campaign. Other pockets of growth for the Vermont brand as a whole is around the Bernie Sanders campaign for the presidency. Regardless of your political affiliation, studying the reaction to Bernie on the national stage is fascinating. One of the oldest, dare I say grandfatherly candidates is also one of the hottest, trendiest among Millennials today. How'd he do that? With his historic rise in popularity, showing the core values of Vermont — authenticity, truth, grit, and transparency — Bernie and Vermont have tugged on the political heartstrings of the American people. Now is the time to capitalize on the notion that, "if you liked Bernie, you should try the rest Vermont."
How do we bottle what Bernie was able to show the world and remind people that what makes Bernie's brand so unique and attractive is in large part what makes Vermont unique and attractive? The idea of unfettered access to stakeholders and key politicians and the ability to make a difference in your community, state and world is something that is very important to Millennials. There's no better place than Vermont for you to come do that.
A clear vision of the future of Southern Vermont needs to be set. Not three years or five years, but what does 25 years of Southern Vermont's future look like? If we establish this vision - one that I hope revolves around education and workforce development, regional collaboration, entrepreneurial expansion, and community development - I think we can galvanize the base of Millennials to rethink Southern Vermont as a place to work, play... and stay.
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.