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Pownal's opportunity to lead

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2017-07-23

By Ted Brady, as seen in the Bennington Banner: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/pownals-opportunity-to-lead,514507

Rural economies across America are struggling to recover from the Great Recession, with economic progress stalling, populations declining, and families questioning whether their children have a future in their communities. I for one believe rural Vermont can serve as a model - where leaders, entrepreneurs, and families band together to define their communities.

Pownal has an opportunity to buck the national trend and be a leader in the new American rural economy by taking full advantage of the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) Climate Economy Model Communities Program.

After participating in the June 24 Empower Pownal Kick-Off meeting, I was excited to see so many residents celebrating Pownal's strengths, speaking openly about her challenges, and brainstorming about what her future might look like. It was the first step in a process aimed at giving Pownal residents a forum to chart their own course and tell the world Pownal is bucking the national trend.

I hope every Pownal resident considers voicing their opinion during the next Empower Pownal meeting — Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion.

As board chair, I've participated in more than a dozen VCRD community visits like the one going on in Pownal. VCRD's role in these visits is to create an environment where every citizen feels empowered, engaged, and capable of making change. VCRD and other state rural development councils were enabled by the 1990 US Farm Bill with the goal of facilitating greater integration of federal, state, and local agricultural and rural policies to better serve rural communities. VCRD was founded in 1992 and for over 20 years has worked in more than 50 towns in all corners of Vermont to facilitate local conversations to identify and implement initiatives that make life better in those communities.

Many of VCRD's community conversations have been general in nature — called Community Visits. Pownal, Bennington, and Manchester all used this process to help identify local goals, local projects, and local leaders. Other VCRD community programs have had themes, such as the creative economy or broadband expansion. No matter what type of community program VCRD is organizing, the core mission of the organization is to follow the lead of local citizens.

The Climate Economy Model Communities Program, and Empower Pownal, exemplify VCRD's core belief in local leadership. Two years ago, the VCRD Board launched a series of conversations around the climate economy. Hundreds of Vermonters participated, and a clear conclusion of the conversation was that climate change and the global response will result in one of the largest economic transitions in our history. From these conversations VCRD joined together with Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power to launch the Climate Economy Model Communities - an effort to use the VCRD process to empower rural Vermont communities to lead this economic transition. This partnership offers communities like Pownal an opportunity to connect their ideas with resources that might not otherwise find Pownal. On Tuesday, every participant will have an opportunity to review the list of their ideas from the last meeting, add new ones, and then prioritize ideas they think the community should turn into actions. These ideas are from your neighbors, friends and family. For more than twenty years VCRD has found this local priority setting to be a great way to identify a common actionable vision.

Every one of VCRD's community visits has been a success. Not because giant projects have emerged or because an agenda was met. But because local residents showed up, raised their hands to lead, and made their communities a bit more vibrant. By showing up on Tuesday, you can help ensure Empower Pownal is a success too.

— Ted Brady is the deputy secretary of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and VCRD board chair.